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Skin

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When his parents decide to separate, eighth-grader Donnie watches with horror as the physical condition of his 16-year old sister, Karen, deteriorates due to an eating disorder.

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Overview

When his parents decide to separate, eighth-grader Donnie watches with horror as the physical condition of his 16-year old sister, Karen, deteriorates due to an eating disorder.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the riveting opening scene of Vrettos's first novel, narrator Donnie comes home to discover that his 16-year-old sister has "starved herself to death." He then retraces the events that have led up to this point, including his parents' rocky marriage and his own part in driving a wedge between his sister, Karen, and her new friend, Amanda. Trying to get back with what his sister calls his "loser friends," Donnie lets them think that something happened between himself and Amanda while they all spent a vacation in a cabin by the lake. But Karen's self-destructive behavior begins when the gym teacher calls her "curvy," which Karen interprets as "fat." The characterizations are at times uneven. Readers never find out, for instance, why Amanda ultimately forgives Donnie, though his so-called "friends" who quickly tire of the Donnie-Amanda connection comes across as entirely credible. And the author implies the importance of other supporting characters, such as Donnie's Aunt Janice and cousin Bobby, and two twin classmates new to town, without fully developing the relationships between them and the main characters. But Karen's struggle with her disease, and Donnie's own feeling of invisibility come across as piercingly authentic. His vain attempts to secretly put protein powder in Karen's food and water, and to reach out to others are among the book's most powerful scenes. Vrettos is a writer to watch. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA
Fourteen-year-old Donnie cannot revive his sister, nor can the EMTs who arrive to rush her emaciated body to the hospital. She was his rock; the one who protected him from the ugliness of their parents' foundering marriage. But a year ago she stopped eating, becoming clever at deceiving her family once they realized what she was doing and attending but ignoring counseling. It is Donnie's story and not Karen's, and his cry from page to page is for someone to please, please notice him, because "This is happening to me, too, you know!" His friends have decided to freeze him out, putting him at the bottom of the social food chain. His father forgets to show up to do this or that with him, or appears unannounced, expecting that his family will fall at his feet. His mother, with shades of obsessive-compulsive disorder, is-without the physical battering-a classic battered wife. There is no one there for Donnie but Donnie himself, trying desperately to connect with someone-anyone-who will see that he is there. Parts of the book seem pasted in, and some strong language and sexual innuendos do not always follow the flow of the story. On the whole, though, this book about anorexia, bullying, and a dysfunctional family hits themes that teens search to read about. The reader feels the tension in this family, and if the friends Donnie finds in the end seem detached from all that is happening, the reader is relieved to allow Donnie something of a happy ending. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P J S (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2006, Margaret K. McElderry/S & S, 240p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Lynne Hawkins
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Donnie, 14, has a dysfunctional family. His parents, completely ineffective, constantly rage at one another. His sister, Karen, 16, is anorexic and storms around screaming profanities and lying. Donnie is simply becoming invisible. The outcast at school, he suffers from ear infections and lays low, watching his sister starve herself. He tells of his infatuation with his sister's best friend and of the humiliation he suffers at school. Readers know from the first page that Donnie finds Karen dead; his recounting of the preceding years is heartbreaking because of his sincere love for the sister who has been his keeper, and because of the anger and betrayal he feels during her physical and emotional descent. Vrettos tends to interject distracting moments of slapstick, and the character development is uneven. The father, in particular, is inexplicably one-dimensional in his failure to communicate with his family other than by manhandling and shouting. The well-meaning mother is simply ineffectual, alternately coddling and lashing out. Their constant arguing becomes background noise that neither moves the plot forward nor illuminates the family's problems. In an ending that feels hopeful yet too expected and tidy, Donnie finds some actual friends and resolves to leave his family's problems behind as he pursues his own life. The insight into the protagonist as the "invisible" one in a highly dysfunctional family makes Skin worth considering for large collections.-Joyce Adams Burner, Hillcrest Library, Prairie Village, KS Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
First-time novelist Vrettos finds a fresh angle for a familiar topic by focusing her story about Karen, an anorexic, on Donnie, her younger brother. The work paints a portrait of a dysfunctional family through the eyes of its youngest member, detailing the issues that may have led to Karen's illness and, more important, how her illness affects Donnie. Donnie has a unique personality and a vivid imagination, but unfortunately he defines himself only as Karen's brother. Friendless, Donnie thrives on opportunities to tag along with Karen and her best friend, Amanda, and his constantly warring parents focus what little attention they have left on Karen's eating habits. When Karen's illness worsens, Donnie believes it best to become invisible-completely withdrawing to avoid drawing attention away from his sister and onto his own problems. As the story reaches its climax, though, Donnie must make a choice between disappearing forever and staking a claim on his life. A marvelous debut featuring an unforgettable character whose affective voice captures the ill-effects of psychological disorders on families. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780756981150
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/1/2007
  • Pages: 227
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Skin


By Adrienne Maria Vrettos

Margaret K. McElderry

Copyright © 2006 Adrienne Maria Vrettos
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-4169-0655-X


Chapter One

Karen almost jerks my shoulder out of its socket dragging me out of the house and onto the front stoop. We stand huffing on the top step in the February air for a second. I nod at her, impressed. She nods back and bends over, hands on her knees. We're like athletes. Sprint runners. Sprint runners specially trained to run into burning houses to rescue orphans. Except we don't run into houses, we run out of them. And our house isn't burning, at least not with fire. We're out here because Karen freaks out when Mom and Dad fight. She always has. As soon as one of them so much as cocks an eyebrow, Karen is out the door. She grabs me by the wrist and drags me out after her. She's done it since we were kids.

She says she used to keep an old and smelly lunch box by the door, filled with a spare diaper, a bottle, a box of crackers, and these earmuffs that were shaped like teddy bears. She'd make me wear the earmuffs, even in summer, because I was always either getting or getting over an ear infection. She thought the teddy bears helped. Over the years we lost the earmuffs, but I kept the ear infections. We have much better provisions now. I reach over the side of the steps and slide out the loose brick. I pull out the tin box, replace the brick, and sit on the topstep. Karen sits next to me and hands me my science book. She'd be the best and worst person to have with you if your house actually were on fire. She'd tear you out of the house before you got a whiff of smoke, but the only thing she'd rescue besides you is your homework.

She opens her Spanish workbook, and I open the tin.

"What do you want?" I ask.

"Do we have any caramel chews left? Zip up your jacket."

"No caramel. There's peanut, though," I say, zipping my jacket to my chin and burying the bottom half of my face in its high neck.

"Fine," she says, reaching over and yanking my hood up over my head. She zips her own jacket and takes a handful of the peanut candies from me. I go to work on a half-eaten box of Valentine's Day chocolates left over from last week. I can tell Karen's listening to Mom and Dad, pretending to be reading. She would never bring us farther than the front steps. We go far enough so that we don't have to see it up close, but we're close enough so nothing really bad can happen. They know we're out here.

It's already almost too dark to read my science book. I open it anyway and let my eyes unfocus on the page until the ink and the paper blend together. Then I slam the book shut and look at Karen. Her nose has turned bright red from the cold.

"I'll make you macaroni later," she says, not looking up from the book that I know she can't see. She used to tell me this to calm me down, to keep me from banging my fists and my knees against the front door, trying to get back in. She always made good on her promise. When they were done fighting, when Dad had sulked off and Mom had locked herself in the bathroom, we'd slink inside. Karen would make macaroni and we'd pretend it was just us living there.

I rest my chin on the edge of my book and start thinking about how if I were in the woods, way up on a mountain, instead of on my front steps, this time of night would be really scary.

Especially if something went terribly wrong with the mission that me and the rest of my highly trained team of secret service assassins were on. We made camp for the night in a small clearing, surrounded by towering pine trees that swayed and creaked in the cold wind. I am on first watch with Harley, the most loveable screw-up I've ever served with. Midway into our shift, I elbow him in the gut to wake him up and tell him I'm going to take a leak. I step outside of the circle of firelight and go to the edge of the woods. Midstream, the reflection of the fire suddenly disappears from the leaves I'm peeing on. I finish fast and turn around to whisper-yell, "H! You asshole. What'd you do? Piss on the fire? Harley? Stop dicking around and bring some wood." I curse under my breath while I relight the fire. What I see as the fire slowly lights the camp makes me drop to the ground and pull out my gun. They're gone. My whole team, all of them. Harley. Everybody. The tents have been slashed, the sleeping bags are empty, and there are drops of blood on the ground leading out of our campsite and into the woods. I remember Captain's words during training. He called me the wild card, a loose cannon. If it were up to him, I'd be guarding some eighth-term-senator's grandmother, not the president's daughter. But it's not up to him. Me and the president go way back, further back than I'd ever be able to tell a soul without turning up dead somewhere. The president wanted me on this, and now that his daughter has been kidnapped, it is up to me to save her. Captain would want me to do the safe thing: wait till morning. I can hear his raspy voice, There's no telling what's in these woods, soldier. "Only one way to find out," I say aloud. I grab my night-vision goggles and my pack, and head into the darkness.

"Who's that?"

Up, up out of the woods and back to where my butt has frozen to our top step, Karen's actually looked up from her book to watch a crooked rust-red pickup truck that's parking at the house across the street.

"Must be the new people," I say. Mom said someone had moved in. I just assumed it was another old couple, like the one who lived there before. The two of them had looked like brother and sister; twins even, except they were married. Creepy.

A really big guy in a parka you'd wear if you were climbing polar ice caps is getting out of the driver's side of the truck. He looks like one of those guys that builds houses. Or tears them down. Either way, he'd do it with his bare hands. He stretches when he's out, and sees us watching from across the street. He waves.

"Hiya." His voice rolls like rocks across the street. The passenger-side door opens, and a soccer ball falls out and rolls under the truck. The big man picks it up. Karen and I are both watching to see who gets out. I'm hoping for a kid my age, someone I could hang out with all weekend, till school on Monday when he finds out I'm a leper and pretends not to know me. The truck door opens farther and someone gets out. It's not a kid my age. But it is the most beautiful girl I've ever seen. Roll your eyes if you want. You think of a better way to say it when you see someone and every single part of you stops for a second, and then starts up again, but in a way that will never be the same.

Karen's already standing. She pulls me up by my jacket sleeve.

"Hi. I'm Karen," she calls as I stare at the girl crossing the street toward us. Her hair's pulled back in a ponytail and she's wearing a soccer uniform under her jacket. She's been sweating.

"This is Donnie," Karen says, nudging me with her elbow. "Did you just move in?"

"Yep. I'm Amanda. You live here?" Her socks are doubled down, showing her shin guards. She's got a scab the size of a dime on her right knee. The skin around the scab is lighter than the rest of her.

"Yep," I say. I can't look her in the eye. So I look at her chest until Karen elbows me in the ribs.

"Yeah, we live here," Karen says, as if my answer wasn't good enough. I hate it when she does that.

"So ... what are you guys doing out here? Aren't you cold?" Amanda asks, resting the toe of her cleat on the edge of the step. I stare at the lines of her leg muscle and wonder how Karen will answer this one. From inside we all hear Mom yell, "The hell I don't!"

"Family tradition," Karen says quickly. Good answer. Amanda nods and smiles.

"What grade are you in?" Karen and Amanda ask each other the question at the same time and laugh.

"I'm in tenth," Karen says.

"Me too," Amanda says. "I start at Kennedy on Monday. I just met with the coach for the indoor league."

Karen nods toward me. "He's in -"

"I'm in eighth," I interrupt, and Karen snorts. Amanda smiles at me and I try to tuck my entire head inside my jacket.

"Dad and I just got Chinese food if you want to come over. It'll be warmer inside than out here."

"Sure!" I say. That's a lie: I don't say it, I practically scream it from inside my jacket.

Amanda and Karen both look at me.

"Sure," Karen says. "Thanks."

I don't notice that it's gone quiet inside till Mom opens the front door and comes out wearing her stupid fake smile and talking in her stupid fake voice.

"Hi there! I'm Karen's mom."

Apparently Karen's an only child.

"You must have just moved in across the street."

"Yes ma'am. My dad and I did."

"Well, tell your dad we would love to have the two of you over for dinner sometime real soon."

"Okay. Thanks."

Mom's eyes are red-rimmed and glassy. Through the door I can see Dad pacing. He's not done yet. We all stand there for a second, looking at our feet.

Amanda says, "I actually just asked if ... they wanted to eat at our house tonight. We're having Chinese. There's plenty."

I hold in my mouth the taste of Amanda including me, and watch Mom.

"Well, sure, Karen can eat at your house. Donnie, you don't want to hang around girls all night, do you? You'll stay here with us."

I look back inside the house. Dad's standing still now, watching us from the living room. I look back at Karen, trying to grab onto her with my eyes. I think Don't leave me, don't leave me, don't leave me. She leaves me.

"Okay. Bye, Mom. I'll be home later."

"Nice meeting you, Donnie," Amanda says.

I watch them walk down the driveway; their heads already tipped toward each other, Amanda linking elbows with Karen as if they've been best friends forever. I'm left to follow Mom into the house as she is answering Dad's demand, "Who was that?"

I don't blame Karen. I would have left too, if I could have.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Skin by Adrienne Maria Vrettos Copyright © 2006 by Adrienne Maria Vrettos. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2012

    Have you ever been stuck in a situation where your family is in

    Have you ever been stuck in a situation where your family is in danger? Siblings, Karen and Donnie’s lives are just about to change. Their Dad unexpectedly leaves them, Karen’s best friend moves, and worst of all, Karen’s issue. Karen’s problem harms her health and her family’s relationship. Something happened to her that nobody can change. What could be wrong with Karen and why would her P.E. teacher start it all? You will have to read Skin by Adrienne Maria Vrettos to find out what eventually happened to Karen and Donnie’s life. This book is a realistic fiction book that I enjoyed very much. It was very suspenseful, and you don’t know what would happen next. If you are interested in sad books, this is perfect for you.

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