Paperweight by Meg Haston
Genre: Contemporary with Mental Illness
Published by: Hot Key Books
Paperweight follows Stevie who is admitted to a rehab centre for eating disorders. Twenty seven days after she arrives it will be the first anniversary of her brother’s death, and to honour his memory, because she feels entirely responsible, she wants to kills herself. Heavy stuff, right? (Trigger warnings: self-harm, eating disorders, volatile relationships, manic-pixie-dream-girl.)
I’ve never read anything about eating disorders before and, if I’m being 100% honest, the topic scares me. I had the opportunity to review Paperweight when it first came out, but I declines thinking that because the subject matter wasn’t for me, I wouldn’t enjoy the story. I WAS WRONG. So wrong that it needs to be capitalised, underlined, and in a different colour.
C H A R A C T E R S
Stevie can be slightly unlikable. The way she treats the other girls in her cabin is cold, and she’s not very polite to her shrink. HOWEVER, I think that’s only because as a reader you want what’s best for her, so when she rejects treatment and plots to escape you sympathise with her but more than anything you want her to get better.
Ashley was the stand to character. She’s Stevie’s roommate, and she’s very optimistic. You can’t help but love her. Who wouldn’t? In fact, all of the girls in Cabin Three were incredible. The secondary characters are definitely what made this book more enjoyable. Suffice to say, it would be a very lonely story without them. They didn’t feel 2D and I really liked how the different ways of coping with eating disorders was represented in each of the girls.
I also have to commend Shrink, because she was the second largest character in the book. Though she’s mainly there to support the patients we still manage to get a good feel for what she’s like as a person, and some of her history, which I really appreciated.
S E T T I N G
I really loved everything about the setting. It’s a twist on the boarding school setting, where instead of magic and fun, it’s a place of fear and people-who-want-to-help. You could tell that research had gone into the effects of the different eating disorders and the kind of treatment provided by rehab centres like the one in the novel. Even if some of the activities are fictional, I believed every single one.
Also, the way that the adults/supervisors talked to the patients was realistic. I really felt like I was there with Stevie.
The best bit is that Paperweight doesn’t glorify the illness or the treatment for them. It’s not a fun place where ‘everything will be okay.’ There are strict rules and a monitoring system. Basically, it’s not frivolous and the subject is not taken lightly.
P A C I N G and D E V E L O P M E N T
The thing I found to be most interesting about Paperweight was its structure. Especially, in terms of internal character arc. So, we join Stevie at a pretty rough time in her life and I don’t think it can get any worse than believing you’ve killed your brother while dealing with a mental illness. Because of this, there’s not rising tension. Throughout the novel, as Stevie tells Shrink, writes in her journal, or has a flashback, you learn about the events that have led up to her current situation. About her history with her mother, her brother and the mysterious Eden, her sort-of girlfriend. You’re waiting to find out a) how her brother died and b) why Stevie thinks she is the cause.
The majority of the tension comes from Stevie’s diagnosis as bulimic. (She was hoping for anorexic.) This revelation doesn’t come until roughly half way through, even though the whole time you know she’s definitely got an eating disorder up until that point.
Stevie’s personal character development is slow. She’s not going to shake off an eating disorder in 100 pages now, is she? No. Therefore, I had absolutely no problem with the way things spread out. Stevie’s behaviour was repetitive and maybe even selfish. She certainly didn’t want anything to do with the other girls in her cabin. But towards the end, Stevie manages to obtain some of that teenage-girl normality. She makes friends, and this is where everything changes for her.
V E R D I C T
The ending is harrowing, heartbreaking (in places) but, most importantly, HOPEFUL. I really had no idea where this story was going to go after how it began, and I was constantly on the edge of my seat. The end was a whirlwind and so very emotional. I will be recommending Paperweight as often as possible now and it’s definitely taught me that you can’t judge a book for its content before you’ve given it a try!