The first thing I noticed about this book when I started reading was the fact that it is written in second person narrative – something that isn’t often attempted, and when it is, can be really difficult to successfully do while still managing to write an engaging story. In the case of Sad Perfect, Stephanie Elliot not only tackles the second person narration, but also really makes it work, and creates an even more powerful and emotional story because of the way that she chose to write this book. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to really get into the story because it was written this way, but in my opinion, it kind of made it even more interesting.
Pea is a sixteen year old girl who has parents who love her, a best friend, and who does well in school. However, she’s dealing with an issue that no one can see – she has an eating disorder. She isn’t anorexic or bulimic, because she does choose to eat, but only certain things. Other things she can’t bear the thought of eating, and because of this, she doesn’t eat the same foods as everyone else. She might want peanut butter crackers, but she will never eat pizza with cheese – only the crust. She loves ice cream – it’s a safe food for her, but the thought of eating any kind of meat makes her gag. Her parents do their best to accommodate her, and Pea tries to live with it, but she feels like it’s destroying her on the inside – especially the monster that she thinks lives inside her, telling her she can’t eat or sparking anxiety attacks. She doesn’t think very highly of herself – especially after her boyfriend, Alex, broke up with her last year when he found out about her eating disorder.
When Pea starts going to therapy, and finally gets a diagnosis for what’s going on with her, she feels a little relieved. After all, there are others with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) out there, so she isn’t alone! She starts working with a therapist and going to group therapy in order to learn to work through her problems and start to try new foods.
During this, she’s been spending time with Ben, a boy she met at a birthday party for her best friend. Ben has been understanding with Pea, and the two of them are falling for each other, and quickly. While Pea’s mother tries her hardest to make sure Pea stays healthy, Pea stops taking her anti-depressants after she meets Ben, because he makes her happy. She doesn’t realize how much she still needs them until she starts on a downward spiral into depression, with or without Ben.
Sad Perfect deals with a lot of important issues, such as first loves, eating disorders, depression, and self-injury. I wanted to point this out in case you struggle with any of these issues. At times, this book was really difficult to read, even for me, and I’m usually not one for having issues with triggers, like self injury. As someone who has a past history with depression and self injury as a teenager, I can tell you that it really made me uneasy reading about it in the way that it was portrayed in the book – probably because it felt so real. Feeling Pea’s struggle with depression and self injury allowed me to connect to her character a lot more than I would have been able to otherwise.
The way that this book is written adds quite a bit to it in terms of being able to be pulled into the story. Since it was written in second person, it kind of made me feel like I was part of the story, making it easier to enjoy it. Needless to say, I had read this book in one sitting.
I knew absolutely nothing about ARFID before reading this book – to be honest, I didn’t even know it existed. It was definitely an eye-opening novel that discussed an important issue, and since the author of the book has a daughter with ARFID, it was written with a personal touch of someone who is knowledgeable about the disorder.
One issue I had with this book is that when Pea got sent to rehab because of her cutting, she was forced to eat the food that they provided there – if she didn’t want it, she went hungry. …Where were her parents, and why were they not explaining her nutritional needs to the staff who worked there before they left her? Why didn’t her therapist get called in to discuss Pea’s eating disorder more in depth? As parents of a child with special dietary needs, it was essential for them to have spoken with the people who would be in charge of Pea’s health while she was in the psychiatric hospital, because she couldn’t just not eat. That tidbit kind of just irked me a bit (a lot, actually), because for the rest of the book, everyone seemed so concerned over Pea’s well being (to the point of not even letting Pea see Ben because they thought he wasn’t good for her).
I really loved how family was an important part of this novel. While some aren’t lucky enough to have good support systems for mental illnesses or eating disorders, this is one of those cases where it is nice to see that families can work together to get the best possible care for their loved ones. While Pea’s brother didn’t seem too concerned with her, even mocking her eating disorder, eventually throughout the novel this changes and we get to see him really standing up for his sister.
Pea’s character changes a bit, as can be expected – she stops taking anti-depressants because she thinks she is better, and little by little we watch her struggle with daily life until she becomes depressed and feels alone, turning to self injury to numb her pain.
If you are looking for a really powerful novel about mental illness, this is unlike anything else I’ve ever read, and I mean that in a good way. With the topics of discussion in the book, as well as the fact that it’s written in second person, it really captures you and pulls you into the story.
About the Author
A Florida native, Stephanie has lived near Chicago and Philadelphia and currently calls Scottsdale, Arizona home. She graduated from Northern Illinois University, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. Stephanie and her husband Scott have three children: AJ, McKaelen and Luke. They are all her favorites.
A Note from the Author:
I wrote SAD PERFECTwhen my daughter was going through a 20-week intensive outpatient therapy program for her eating disorder ARFID, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. This disorder greatly affected every member in our family and caused my daughter to have extreme anxiety and depression. It is our hope that if you are struggling with an eating disorder, anxiety, or depression, that you know you are not alone, that there is help out there, that all you need to do is ask. We have set up a website for those who think they might have ARFID, and my daughter has a YouTube channel where she talks openly about her experience. While SAD PERFECT is fiction, all of the ARFID pieces in the novel are true. Please visit my website, stephanieelliot.com or stephanieelliot.wixsite.com/ARFID for more information on ARFID. Thank you, and be well.