Sethie Weiss is hungry, a mean, angry kind of hunger that feels like a piece of glass in her belly. She’s managed to get down to 111 pounds and knows that with a little more hard work—a few more meals skipped, a few more snacks vomited away—she can force the number on the scale even lower. She will work on her body the same way she worked to get her perfect grades, to finish her college applications early, to get her first kiss from Shaw, the boy she loves, the boy who isn’t quite her boyfriend.
Sethie will not allow herself one slip, not one bad day, not one break in concentration. Her body is there for her to work on when everything and everyone else—her best friend, her schoolwork, and Shaw—are gone.
OPINION: 5 STARS
Uncomfortable but realistic, The Stone Girl is an aching but beautiful tale of body issues and friendship. Though the third person point of view creates a different kind of connection to the book, especially one so character and relationship focused, it’s still engaging in an inexplicable way. I fell into this one right away, stunned by the depth of Sethie’s hatred towards herself, even when she couldn’t see it for what it was. Sethie’s entire character arc is so well done, so intricate from start to finish, and the book closes at the perfect moment for the story.
Sethie is a character that, in all honesty, I can see a lot of readers hating. More than once I wanted to shake some sense in to her, except she isn't just that oblivious girl who doesn’t realize her boyfriend is less than what he seems, who doesn’t realize he maybe isn't even her boyfriend at all but a guy that just uses her to get some. As a reader, yes, it’s easy to see early that the reality with Shaw isn't what’s in her head. It is frustrating? Yes. But here’s the thing. I understood her. I got that essentially, Sethie is a girl who has such a small view of herself, so much built up self-hatred, that just having a guy who is willing to sleep with her means everything. He wants her, out of all the girls. It’s her that turns him on. And even when faced with some even rougher truths about him, her reaction is something towards herself, towards what that must mean for her, rather than anything outward. This, I think, is what makes this book so potent, but also makes it one of those books that can be easily misinterpreted. This is one of those books, and Sethie is one of those characters, that is so flawed she is painfully realistic, the kind of authentic that you want to turn away from.
Then there’s the eating disorder wrapped into the story, the way Sethie views herself, the fact that she hates the natural curves a woman should have because those curves come from fat. Sethie isn't the kind of anorexic that weighs less than a Barbie. But she still weighs less than she should, she still punishes her body constantly, punishes herself for being hungry. A victory to Sethie is being able to skip a meal and not think about it, or being fine eating half a bagel with barely any peanut butter on it. And though as a reader, I know how much she’s hurting herself, while reading, I understood that it made sense to Sethie, and therefore it made sense to me. Even more notable with this entire aspect of the story was that for Sethie, it just was. She didn’t have a rough home life that pushed her into needing control of one aspect of her life. She didn’t have a mom who made her feel imperfect all the time. She just had a different view of herself in her head, and it just… was. And honestly? I loved that aspect, because I do think there are a lot of girls who go through the same thing. Who can’t adequately explain why they see themselves like that. If every eating disorder was the exact same, then I imagine treating them would be simple. But each case is different, and some of them are more mundane seeming, and that is showcased so beautifully in this book.
Adding another layer to the story is the note of friendship, of the goods and bads of it, of hurting someone and then figuring out how to make up for it. Jane is an amazing character for this, a girl who has a good head on her shoulders, even if she can be a bit selfish or show-offy at times. Understanding Sethie before anyone else does, she tests Sethie in some much needed, even if painful, ways. I loved watching the friendship form between those, particularly set against the backdrop of how Sethie views herself and her relationship with Shaw. And though Shaw is a character that you will probably want to kick in a certain painful place, he, too, has an honest realism to him and an essential role in the story. While instinct says what happens with him and Sethie isn't really that realistic, logic says that yes, unfortunately, it is. It’s those kind of gray areas that are so perfectly woven into the story, the things that challenge readers, that makes The Stone Girl a great and important read. Though hard to take at times, and certainly a bit of a train wreck to follow, this is a book that is, at its center, captivating.
Reading level: Ages 12 and up
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 28, 2012