Big Brother: A Novel

( 34 )

Overview

From the acclaimed author of the National Book Award finalist So Much for That and the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin comes an extraordinary novel about siblings, marriage, and obesity.

When Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at the Iowa airport, she doesn't recognize him. In the four years since she last saw him, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? And it's not just the weight. Edison breaks her ...

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Overview

From the acclaimed author of the National Book Award finalist So Much for That and the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin comes an extraordinary novel about siblings, marriage, and obesity.

When Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at the Iowa airport, she doesn't recognize him. In the four years since she last saw him, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? And it's not just the weight. Edison breaks her husband Fletcher's handcrafted furniture, makes overkill breakfasts for the family, and entices her stepson not only to forgo college but to drop out of high school. After Edison has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: it's him or me. But which loyalty is paramount, that of a wife or a sister? For without Pandora's support, surely Edison will eat himself into an early grave.

Rich with Shriver's distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat—an issue both social and excruciatingly personal. It asks just how much we are obligated to help members of our families, and whether it's ever possible to save loved ones from themselves.

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Editorial Reviews

Gary Shteyngart
“The fellowship of Lionel Shriver fanatics is about to grow larger, so to speak. Big Brother, a tragicomic meditation on family and food, may be her best book yet.”
Margot Livesey
“What would you do for love of a brother? For love of a husband? For love of food? In Big Brother, Shriver’s new and wonderfully timely novel, her heroine wrestles with these vexing questions. Only the scales don’t lie.”
J. Courtney Sullivan
“A searing, addictive novel about the power and limitations of food, family, success, and desire. Shriver examines America’s weight obsession with both razor-sharp insight and compassion.”
Booklist
“Shriver brilliantly explores the strength of sibling bonds versus the often more fragile ties of marriage.”
The Economist
“[Shriver] has a knack for conveying subtle shifts in family dynamics. . . . Ms Shriver offers some sage observations. . . . Yet her main gift as a novelist is a talent for coolly nailing down uncomfortable realities.”
Bloomberg
“Would I recommend Big Brother? Absolutely. It confronts the touchy subject of American lard exuberantly and intelligently; it makes you think about what you put in your mouth and why.”
New York Times
“Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother has the muscle to overpower its readers. It is a conversation piece of impressive heft.”
Miami Herald
Big Brother is vintage Shriver - observant, unsettling, funny, but also, as Pandora admits, ‘Very, very sad.’”
Washington Post
“As a writer, Shriver’s talents are many: She’s especially skilled at playing with readers’s reflexes for sympathy and revulsion, never letting us get too comfortable with whatever firm understanding we think we have of a character.”
USA Today
“The ever-caustic Shriver has great fun at the expense of crash diets and a host of other sacred pop-culture, er, cows. Politically correct it’s not, but Big Brother finds the funny - and the pathos - in fat.”
Guardian
“Shriver is brilliant on the novel shock that is hunger. . . . Most of all, though, there’s her glorious, fearless, almost fanatically hard-working prose.”
The Times (London)
“A surprising sledgehammer of a novel”
Sunday Times (London)
“A gutsy, heartfelt novel”
New Republic
“Her [Shriver’s] best work—Big Brother is her twelfth novel—presents characters so fully formed that they inhabit her ideas rather than trumpet them.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“The diet - the story of a heroically undertaken significant change - is pretty nearly irresistible. But what really powers this story, an outsize look at the most basic of human activities, eating, is a search for the definition, and appreciation, of ‘ordinary life.’”
New York Times Book Review
“Pandora is a masterly creation.”
Independent
“Shriver is wonderful at the things she is always wonderful at. Pace and plot. . . . Psychology.”
Evening Standard (London)
“The latest compelling, humane and bleakly comic novel from the author of We Need to Talk about Kevin.”
The Rumpus
“A great plot setup that presents an array of targets for Shriver to obliterate with her knife-sharp prose.”
Oprah.com
“The moving (and shocking) finale will have you thinking about the ‘byzantine emotional mathematics’ we all put ourselves through when overwhelmed with family responsibilities.”
People Pick (4 Stars) People
“(A) delicious, highly readable novel . . . (which) raises challenging questions about how much a loving person can give to another without sacrificing his or her own well-being.”
Guardian
“Shriver is brilliant on the novel shock that is hunger. . . . Most of all, though, there’s her glorious, fearless, almost fanatically hard-working prose.”
Publishers Weekly
Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin) returns to the family in this intelligent meditation on food, guilt, and the real (and imagined) debts we owe the ones we love. Ex-caterer Pandora has made it big with a custom doll company that creates personal likenesses with pull-string, sometimes crude, catch phrases. The dolls speak to the condition of these characters—all trapped in destructive relationships with food (and each other): Pandora cooks to show love, to the delight of her compulsively fit husband Fletcher, whose refusal to eat diary or vary from his biking routine are the outward manifestation of his remove. Pandora’s brother Edison eats to ease the pain of a stalled music career and broken marriage. And both live somewhat uncomfortably in the shadow of their father’s TV fame. In Big Brother, nothing reveals character more scathingly than food. Early in the book, the nearly 400-pound Edison arrives—waddling through an Iowa airport with a “ground eating galumph”—a man transformed in the four years since his sister last saw him. He brings the novel energy as well as an occasionally unpalatable maudlin drama. But Pandora will risk everything, including her own health, to save him. If this devotion and Pandora’s increasing success with Edison’s diet plan sometimes seem chirpily false, a late reveal provides devastating justification. Agent: Kim Witherspoon, Inkwell Management. (June)
Library Journal
Pandora hasn't seen her older brother, Edison, a hip New York jazz musician, in four years. When she picks him up at an Iowa airport, he gives her the shock of her life: Edison has gained over 200 pounds and is unrecognizable. His visit is an intrusion into Pandora's home, which she shares with her fitness-freak husband, Fletcher, and her two adopted children. National Book Award finalist and New York Times best-selling novelist Shriver (So Much for That; We Need To Talk About Kevin) is known for her unstinting scrutiny of timely topics. Now she confronts the social but also painfully private issue of obesity through sibling relationships and marriage. However, the novel is essentially about fat—the nature of our relationship to food, why we overeat, and whether crash diets really work. As Fletcher becomes incensed with his brother-in-law's appalling eating habits, slovenly appearance, and careless behavior, he gives Pandora an ultimatum: it's him or me. VERDICT Brilliantly imagined, beautifully written, and superbly entertaining, Shriver's novel confronts readers with the decisive question: can we save our loved ones from themselves? A must-read for Shriver fans, this novel will win over new readers as well. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 12/9/12.]—Lisa Block, Atlanta
Kirkus Reviews
A woman is at a loss to control her morbidly obese brother in the latest feat of unflinching social observation from Shriver (The New Republic, 2012, etc.). Pandora, the narrator of this smartly turned novel, is a happily settled 40-something living in a just-so Iowa home with her husband and two stepchildren and running a successful business manufacturing custom dolls that parrot the recipient's pet phrases. Her brother, Edison, is a New York jazz pianist who's hit the skids, and when he calls hoping to visit for a while, she's happy to assist. But she's aghast to discover he's ballooned from a trim 163 to nearly 400 pounds. Edison can be a pretentious blowhard to start with, and his weight makes him an even more exasperating houseguest, clearing out the pantry, breaking furniture and driving a wedge in Pandora's marriage. So Pandora concocts a scheme: She'll move out to live with Edison while monitoring his crash diet of protein-powder drinks. The book is largely about weight and America's obesity epidemic; Shriver writes thoughtfully about our diets and how our struggle to find an identity tends to lead us toward the fridge, and she describes our fleshy flaws with a candor that marks much of her fiction. But the book truly shines as a study of family relationships. As Pandora spends a year as Edison's cheerleader, drill sergeant and caregiver, Shriver reveals the complex push and pull between siblings and has some wise and troubling things to say about guilt, responsibility and how what can seem like tough love is actually overindulgence. The story's arc flirts with a cheeriness that's unusual for her, but a twist ending reassures us this is indeed a Shriver novel and that our certitude is just another human foible. A masterful, page-turning study of complex relationships among our bodies, our minds and our families.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061458606
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/10/2014
  • Series: P.S.
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 242,648
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Lionel  Shriver

Lionel Shriver's novels include The New Republic, the National Book Award finalist So Much for That, the New York Times bestseller The Post-Birthday World, and the Orange Prize winner We Need to Talk About Kevin. Her journalism has appeared in the Guardian, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. She lives in London and Brooklyn, New York.

Biography

At age seven, Lionel Shriver decided she would be a writer. In 1987, she made good on her promise with The Female of the Species, a debut novel that received admiring reviews. Shriver's five subsequent novels were also well-received; but it was her seventh, 2003's We Need to Talk About Kevin, that turned her into a household name.

Beautiful and deeply disturbing, ...Kevin unfolds as a series of letters written by a distraught mother to her absent husband about their son, a malevolent bad seed who has embarked on a Columbine-style killing spree. Interestingly enough, when Shriver presented the book proposal to her agent, it was rejected out of hand. She shopped the novel around on her own, and eight months later it was picked up by a smaller publishing company. The novel went on to win the 2005 Orange Prize, a UK-based award for female authors of any nationality writing in English.

A graduate of Columbia University, Shriver is also a respected journalist whose features, op-eds, and reviews have appeared in such publications as The Guardian, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and the Economist. Since her breakthrough book, she has continued to produce bestselling fiction and gimlet-eyed journalism in equal measure.

Good To Know

In our interview, Shriver shared some interesting anecdotes about herself with us:

"I am not as nice as I look."

"I am an extremely good cook -- if inclined to lace every dish from cucumber canapés to ice cream with such a malice of fresh chilies that nobody but I can eat it."

"I am a pedant. I insist that people pronounce ‘flaccid' as ‘flaksid,' which is dictionary-correct but defies onomatopoeic instinct and annoys one and all. I never let people get away with using ‘enervated‘ to mean ‘energized,‘ when the word means without energy, thank you very much. Not only am I, apparently, the last remaining American citizen who knows the difference between 'like' and ‘as,‘ but I freely alienate everyone in my surround by interrupting, ‘You mean, as I said.' Or, 'You mean, you gave it to whom,' or ‘You mean, that's just between you and me. ' I am a lone champion of the accusative case, and so –- obviously -- have no friends."

"Whenever I mention that, say, I run an eight-and-a half-mile course around Prospect Park in Brooklyn, or a nine-mile course in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London, I inevitably invite either: ‘Huh! I only run five! Who does she think she is? I bet she's slow. Or I bet she's lying.' Or: ‘Hah! What a slacker. That's nothing. I run marathons in under two and a half hours!' So let's just leave it that I do not do this stuff for ‘fun,' since anyone who tells you they get ‘high' on running is definitely lying. Rather, if I did not force myself to trudge about on occasion, I would spend all day poking at my keyboard, popping dried gooseberries, and in short order weigh 300 pounds. In which event I would no longer fit through the study door, and I do not especially wish to type hunched over the computer on the hall carpet."

"My tennis game is deplorable."

"Most people think I'm working on my new novel, but I'm really spending most of 2004 getting up the courage to finally dye my hair."

"I read every article I can find that commends the nutritional benefits of red wine -- since if they're right, I will live to 110."

"Though raised by Aldai Stevenson Democrats, I have a violent, retrograde right-wing streak that alarms and horrifies my acquaintances in New York. And I have been told more than once that I am ‘extreme.' "

"As I run down the list of my preferences, I like dark roast coffee, dark sesame oil, dark chocolate, dark-meat chicken, even dark chili beans -- a pattern emerges that, while it may not put me on the outer edges of human experience, does exude a faint whiff of the unsavory."

"Twelve years in Northern Ireland have left a peculiar residual warp in my accent. House = hyse; shower = shar; now = nye. An Ulster accent bears little relation to the mincing Dublin brogue Americans are more familiar with, and these aberrations are often misinterpreted as holdovers from my North Carolinian childhood (I left Raleigh at 15). Because this handful of souvenir vowels is one of the only things I took away with me from Belfast -- a town that I both love and hate, and loved and hated me, in equal measure -- my wonky pronunciation is a point of pride (or, if you will, vanity), and when my ‘Hye nye bryne cye' ( = ‘how now brown cow') is mistaken for a bog-standard southern American drawl I get mad."

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    1. Hometown:
      Brooklyn, New York, and London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 18, 1957
    2. Place of Birth:
      Gastonia, North Carolina
    1. Education:
      B.A., Barnard College of Columbia University, 1978; M.F.A. in Fiction Writing, Columbia University, 1982
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 34 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(9)

4 Star

(9)

3 Star

(6)

2 Star

(7)

1 Star

(3)

Your Rating:

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 34 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    This is a great book that revisits the characters of We Need to

    This is a great book that revisits the characters of We Need to Talk About Kevin. The author brings a freshness to the characters as they explore new areas including obesityhealth.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2013

    Ms. Shriver is excessively proud of her vocabulary, using $10 wo

    Ms. Shriver is excessively proud of her vocabulary, using $10 words when $5 words would more than suffice. She also appears to have a serious prejudice against fat people. That being said, I found the book interesting enough to finish it.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 25, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    4.5 Stars 'Big Brother' is a poignant and witty novel that look

    4.5 Stars

    'Big Brother' is a poignant and witty novel that looks at the bonds of family and how far a person will go to protect and save those we love. The story follows main character Pandora as she deals with the daily monotony of her both her home life and her flourishing company. Pandora receives a phone call one day informing her that her dear older brother, Edison, has been crashing at a friend's house and has worn out his welcome there. With nowhere else to go, Pandora invites Edison to come and stay with her and her family in their small Iowan town. Pandora and her family receive a shocking surprise when Edison arrives - he is hundreds of pounds heavier than the last time they saw each other. Pandora is determined to get Edison back to what he was, all while putting a strain on her marriage - until her husband finally demands that she must choose between him or her brother.

    This was an intriguing story that delves into deep topics in our society. It speaks of family, devotion, loyalty, love, and the more hushed topics of obesity and dieting that ravishes our culture. The author takes all of these important topics and mingles them with witty dialogue and compelling narrative that draws the reader in from the very first line of the novel and promises to stay with you long after you finish the last word. The characters were all impeccably written - each with their own flaws, strengths, and personalities. I loved Pandora as the lead character - she is a common woman in America, both devoted to her family and to her work, but ultimately she needs to discover herself in order to save those she loves. The writing itself was a prime example of the immense talent of the writer. The book clips along at a fast pace and had me totally engrossed in the pages within moments of starting it. The narrative is eloquently written and seamlessly flows together to weave a beautiful story that deals with important topics that rarely are given the light they need. Highly recommended for fans of contemporary fiction as well as well as those simply looking for a wonderful story that is fantastically written.

    Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    This is hands down a great book. The author pulls us in with th

    This is hands down a great book. The author pulls us in with the story of an obese brother. It is a can't put down book from that point on.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2013

    I liked this book better after I discovered that Shriver's broth

    I liked this book better after I discovered that Shriver's brother actually died of obesity related issues in his 50s. This book must have been cathartic for her, where she could create an alternate universe in which she was able to save her brother.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2013

    Ugh....I picked this because it was on the top picks for 2013 an

    Ugh....I picked this because it was on the top picks for 2013 and covered the important topic of obesity. But, really, this author just went on and on....so many words (and backstories) where so few would have done. Whose teenagers talk that way in the home? And the alter-universe ending....oh, yeah, it didn't really happen. And I really felt that the author didn't tackle the main subject of obesity with sensitivity or honesty. Broken chairs? Upchuck? Skip this book, there are lots of better ones out there.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2014

    Recommended

    Interesting story about difficult family situations

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 26, 2013

    I found the story compelling, unique and thought provoking. The

    I found the story compelling, unique and thought provoking. The characters are richly developed, and the author presents a tapestry of themes and skillfully weaves them throughout the book.  

    Much of the dialogue seems phony; actual people don't converse the way these characters do.  And the book has a clunky way of jumping between perspectives.  One minute we're reading about the heroine's thoughts and intricacies of her daily life, and the next minute we're getting broad-view social commentary.  While the commentary is ostensibly coming from the heroine, it doesn't really click for me, especially as she tells us early in the book that she doesn't see the point of having many opinions. 

    Throughout the book, I struggled to understand why the heroine made the decision that most of the story revolves around.  While the ending resolved that issue in my mind, it also left me baffled.  Usually I appreciate a twist ending that I truly didn't see coming, yet this one felt abrupt, manipulative and just plain strange.

    All that said, I think the story and characters are well worth a read, and I plan to pick up another book by the same author.   

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2013

    This book is terrible...very disappointing considering all of th

    This book is terrible...very disappointing considering all of the reviews.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2013

    A bit of a disappointment

    After reading a loving "we need to talk about Kevin" I was expecting more from this novel.

    It was enjoyable up until the end. I honestly expected to be more satisfied but was left feeling empty instead of full.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2013

    ???

    I read all the reviews is this for kids or adult book club?
    I rated 1 star because I never ever read this book and I'm

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 30, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Big Brother by Lionel Shriver is a fic­tional book from this acc

    Big Brother by Lionel Shriver is a fic­tional book from this acclaimed author. Ms. Shriver won the 2005 Orange Prize for her acclaimed novel We Need to Talk About Kevin.

    Pan­dora, a suc­cess­ful entre­pre­neur, loves to cook but her hus­band, Fletcher, became a health nut who man­i­cally cycles and does not let an unhealthy calo­rie pass his lips. When Pandora’s older brother, a jazz pianist named Edi­son, comes to visit she is shocked to learn that he is close to 400 lbs.

    Pan­dora decides to take Edi­son under her wing and help him get to his goal weight within a year. Her pet project helps her recon­nect with her brother, but affects her fam­ily and her husband.

    Big Brother by Lionel Shriver is a book which styl­is­ti­cally reminded of So Much for That which I thought was fan­tas­tic. Ms. Shriver wrote an inter­est­ing book, with a twist at the end which I did not see coming.

    I was a bit dis­ap­pointed with the book because I thought it might have more social com­men­tary. After all, So Much for That was scathing in its crit­i­cism of the health care sys­tem. I was expect­ing more of the same about the weight loss indus­try, its shys­ters, the dis­crim­i­na­tion and rea­sons for obe­sity – I got some of that but not much.
    Yes, I con­cede that I should read a book with­out any prior expectations.

    How­ever, despite my out­look, I still found the book inter­est­ing, fluid and a worth­while read. Pur­pose­fully Ms. Shriver con­trasts extremes. Pan­dora, the pro­tag­o­nist, is a good step-mother who is daugh­ter to a lack­ing father. Pan­dora, the suc­cess­ful busi­ness woman, is mar­ried to an ex-salesman who builds fur­ni­ture in the base­ment and is a health freak, she is also sis­ter to a man who is almost 400 lbs. and, of course, the two men in her life are polar oppo­sites in many regards but have much in com­mon (both are extrem­ists and artists).

    The end­ing left me dumb­founded, I’m still not sure if I liked it or now as it turned the whole book on its head, but I have to give Ms. Shriver kudos for brav­ery. Not every author could write such an end­ing, know­ing full well it will be polar­iz­ing, and pull it off as smoothly as she did.

    The book did not dis­ap­point, I was expect­ing more but I still enjoyed the author’s mix of inter­est­ing char­ac­ters and social com­men­tary. The book gives the reader much to think about, the novel doesn’t offer any answers but brings many ques­tions fore­front and center.

    Dis­claimer: I got this book for free

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2013

    Just OK

    Having said Jut OK, I really enjoyed how the book was written with so much description and conversation between the characters. I was disappointed in the ending as I felt scammed by the author. Believe me I m not looking for a sugar coated ending but please don't insult me like that. I felt like I wasted my time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2013

    Lionel Shriver Delivers Again

    A thoroughly enjoyable, heartwarming and heartbreaking read. I was brought through each emotion that Lionel Shriver's writing usually brings out. It was so well written with the scenes detailed in such a way that I felt like a fly on the wall throughout the journey of this family.
    I think everyone with a sibling that they love, help, support, and fear for can relate to the relationship this brother and sister share. I also think that they can understand the pressure that relationship can put on other relationships in your life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2013

    Wanted it to be better

    I liked the idea of the story but it seemed the author went on long after she should of and a the rest was just to hear her own voice.

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  • Posted July 12, 2013

    not her best

    I have been a fan of Lionel Shriver and have read most of her previously published books. I was hoping for quality similar to WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN and THAT'S ENOUGH OF THAT (I loved this one.) I was disappointed. Although her take on the diet dilemma was interesting, she lost me on the climax.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2013

    From start to finish, I could not put this book down until the l

    From start to finish, I could not put this book down until the last word on the last page. Everyone in the United States has at least one obese friend or relative, and this book gives us a perspective from the obese person's point of view, and also a perspective from a concerned friend or family member regarding helping them overcome their obesity. You will not regret purchasing this book, and I am quite sure you will find someone to pass it on to who will enjoy it also.

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  • Posted July 5, 2013

    excellent

    This is an excellent book. Read it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2013

    Great read- I couldn't put it down.

    If you have ever tried to lose weight and felt overwhelmed, you should read this book. An interesting take on dieting. And the results? Read it and see for yourself..... Will definitely want to read more by Lionel Shriver.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Lionel Shriver is a brilliant author. I liked this book even mor

    Lionel Shriver is a brilliant author. I liked this book even more than We Need to Talk About Kevin. The characters are what drew me in. It is a very interesting statement about being over weight and the prejudices that accompany it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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