Monday, August 2, 2010

Review: HUNGER by Jackie Morse Kessler

Final Grade: 87/B
180 pages
YA Urban Fantasy
Release Date: 10/18/2010
Review copy provided by publisher
Recommend to students: Yes

"Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world." 
Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home—her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power—and the courage to fight her own inner demons?
A wildly original approach to the issue of eating disorders, Hunger is about the struggle to find balance in a world of extremes, and uses fantastic tropes to explore a difficult topic that touches the lives of many teens. 
REVIEW:  I finished this book a couple of days ago but I had to let it simmer. HUNGER is one of *those* books. Jackie Kessler is a wildly imaginative author, and her latest novel is no exception. The premise of an anorexic girl tapped to be Famine is so intriguing--like nothing I've heard before.

In the middle of her suicide attempt, Death taps Lisa to be Famine, one of the Four Horsemen (In honor of equal rights and the fact that Lisa is a girl, should it now be Horsepeople? Nah. Horsemen works.) of the Apocalypse. At first, Lisa thinks it's all a dream, one of her light-headed halucinations. But the Scales of her office appear on the table and her black steed is chomping at the plants in the garden (I love that she names her horse, who's never had a name, Midnight. And feeds him pralines). She starts to believe.

Lisa is such a troubled young lady. Kessler does a fantastic job of getting into the head of this anorexic girl and making the reader feel for her--and understand what drives her. Her disease literally eats away at her as she pushes away friends and loved ones, including her boyfriend. This isn't done in a preachy way, either, like I've read before. It's understandable and heartbreaking, especially how she clings to a new friend, Tammy, who's bulimic. Lisa is jealous of Tammy's control--Tammy can eat anything she wants (especially the cookies that Lisa makes for her) and, within 20 minutes, purge it from her system.

Death is a fantastic character, with oblique references to who he "actually" is (he sings clips of Nirvana songs, has stringy blond hair...Kurt Cobain, anyone?). Who would have thought Death is a hottie? And he's the one who gets the best one-liners, too. 
We also meet War and Pestilence. Poor Pestilence holds all the diseases of mankind, which show up all over his body. Lisa meets him while in the role of Famine, learning that Pestilence and Famine work well together (she's grossed out by him, but he gets her to thinking about how she maybe can use her powers differently). War rocks. She's mean and aggressive and her horse tries to eat Lisa's hand when they first meet. She's a great character who I wish we would have seen more of. The battle between War and Famine is fantastic--I wanted more of this.

Actually, that's pretty much my only criticism of this book--I wanted more. More description, more Famine around the world scenes, more about Lisa's relationships, more Death (What? He was hot and funny! You'll want more, too.). I do have to say that more reluctant readers might be more apt to read this book, considering its length. However, it left me wanting more (which is a good thing, in some ways, I guess!). 
(Not a spoiler) This is not a happily-ever-after novel--it's gritty and truthful (though, I promise, you won't want to throw the book across the room because of an unsatisfactory ending!). Lisa is dealing with (hiding from) a serious disease that strikes too many teens. Kessler lays it all out for her readers, getting to the heart of the disease's ugly aspects. She's honest because, as she mentions in her author's note, she was bulimic and had a friend who was bulimic also. (I'm not sure how this will be in the final edition.)
I'm looking forward to see how Kessler deals with Death, War, and Pestilence in her next stories. 
Come back in October, when Jackie Morse Kessler will be stopping by this blog as part of The Crossroads tour! We'll have plenty of awesome giveaways and wonderful interviews, too!


  1. This is one of the first reviews I've seen of this book, and it sounds fabulous! I like the idea of approaching an eating disorder this way and am happy to hear that it doesn't come off preachy (I hate preachy books). Awesome review, too - you did a good job of covering everything important while not spoiling! :)

  2. Definitely sounds like a fun story - unique premise for sure :)

  3. This sounds like a really good book. I think I will move it to the top of my to read list

  4. Sounds like this would be an interesting read. Funny even while dealing with serious topics.

  5. I can't wait to get my hands on this novel! Really well thought out review.

  6. Reading it now. Great review --- now back to the book.