This was another used bookstore find. I was snagged by the title and sold by the cover. Even the teaser from the back is promising:
“Mercy O’Connor is becoming an angel.
She can feel her wings sprouting from her shoulder blades. They itch. Sometimes she even hears them rustling.
And angels don’t need to eat. So Mercy has decided she doesn’t need to either. She is not sick, doesn’t suffer from anorexia, is not trying to kill herself. She is an angel, and angels simply don’t need food.
When her parents send her to an eating disorder clinic, Mercy is scared and confused. She isn’t like the other girls who are so obviously sick. If people could just see her wings, they would know. But her wings don’t come and Mercy begins to have doubts. What if she isn’t really an angel? What if she’s just a girl? What if she is killing herself? Can she stop?”
I’ve always been a fan of the teen problem novel, and I admit I find the topic of anorexia fascinating. I figured I couldn’t lose.
Mercy, Unbound by Kim Antieau
Simon Pulse, 2006
Courtesy of Amazon.com:
Gr. 9-12. Funny and painfully honest, this debut YA novel by the author of several adult books tells the teenage anorexia story from the viewpoint of Mercy, 15, who denies she has an eating disorder until she is sent to a treatment center in New Mexico. Like her loving mom, Mercy is a strident atheist who wants to save the world, and she feels the political burden of starvation, both past (her Jewish grandmother survived Auschwitz; many in her dad’s Irish family perished during the potato famine) and present (the suffering of AIDS orphans). The plot lurches at the end, the political stuff is sometimes heavy, and Mercy’s wildly misleading comment to her counselor–if she and the other patients “had been born black in South Africa, [we] would most likely have AIDS”–is never challenged or corrected in context. Still, many readers will want this for the family story and for the teen talk, which is fast, frank, and irreverent. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Strengths: The parallel to Shelley’s Prometheus, Unbound is quite clever. Like Shelley’s play, Antieau’s book is divided into 4 parts, and Mercy’s feelings regarding the suffering she sees in the world mirror those of Prometheus. I really found this to be a unique and clever approach.
Potential Flaws: This book had a great deal of promise. As I’ve said, I’ve always been a fan of a good problem novel. But, that being said, I was really disappointed with this read. The political/moral issues that keep cropping up, although accurate, are heavy-handed. Further, I felt that this was potentially two novels. The first was the typical problem novel about anorexia. Unfortunately, it never really delivered; Mercy’s repeated “I don’t eat because I’m becoming an angel and angels don’t need to eat” really flies in the face of the fact that in truth, anorexia is about body image and control issues. The “angel” approach trivializes a serious issue. The second novel was a “what if” story; what if Mercy really WAS becoming an angel? This was a direction that I was hoping the story would go. Again, unfortunately, Antieau doesn’t deliver that either. Ultimately, while the Prometheus parallel was a good one, I also felt that it was one that would most likely be lost on a significant portion of the intended audience.
A disappointment. Much promise, but not much delivery. Too many false starts, heavy-handed political issues, and just not much punch.