The Weight of It: A Story of Two Sisters

Overview

A deeply affecting memoir about the bond between two sisters—and the 150 pounds that nearly separated them

As young girls, a year apart in age, Alison and Amy Wilensky were almost indistinguishable. And they were inseparable: growing up in a comfortable Boston suburb, they were never far from each other’s side, wearing matching dresses, playing the same games, eating the same food. But Alison began gaining weight in elementary school and by the time she was sixteen was morbidly ...

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The Weight of It: A Story of Two Sisters

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Overview

A deeply affecting memoir about the bond between two sisters—and the 150 pounds that nearly separated them

As young girls, a year apart in age, Alison and Amy Wilensky were almost indistinguishable. And they were inseparable: growing up in a comfortable Boston suburb, they were never far from each other’s side, wearing matching dresses, playing the same games, eating the same food. But Alison began gaining weight in elementary school and by the time she was sixteen was morbidly obese. The sisters remained close, but over the years the daily indignities and affronts endured by Alison took their toll, reshaping her identity indelibly and affecting the sisters’ relationship in unanticipated ways.

In her late twenties, Alison underwent gastric bypass surgery, in the wake of which she lost more than 150 pounds and achieved the shape she’d dreamed of for so much of her life. It wasn’t just her body that was transformed: every significant relationship in her life was profoundly altered.

The Weight of It is a universal story of how we discover what makes us who we are, and how we become the people we want to be. Amy Wilensky is uniquely equipped to write this book, and she does so with fine perception, insight, and compassion.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With wisdom, humor and surprising candor, Wilensky (Passing for Normal) shares the story of two sisters (one year apart) from earliest memory into adulthood. The relationship's bonds and boundaries take on increasing complexity as Wilensky charts her older sister Alison's journey from morbid obesity to thinness following gastric bypass surgery in her late 20s. "Your siblings are the only other citizens from a country nobody else will ever visit," the author observes, but it becomes apparent that these two sisters-despite their closeness-lived in very different places; while they could be strong allies, they were also formidable antagonists. The author's empathy for Alison is stronger now that they are adults. "Alison's weight was and remains so far down on my list of how I would describe her that it would come after `master Othello player,' `makes her own fruit-infused vodkas,' and `has an uncanny ability to find a parking spot in any city in the country,' " declares Wilensky. But this blind spot also meant she was unable to offer comfort to Alison as she encountered the subtle and overt discrimination faced by the obese, affronts detailed in the book. And Wilensky admits she was not above taunting her sister for putting too much butter on a baked potato. The author's recollections shine with love and offer the insights afforded by the passage of time. Wilensky masterfully tells a story that she recognizes is not truly hers to tell. (Feb. 5) Forecast: Two forthcoming books, Passing for Thin (Forecasts, Nov. 10) and Life Without Ed (Forecasts, Dec. 1) address weight issues from a memoir standpoint. The books, which are all being published early next year, could make a smart display to coincide with National Eating Disorders Awareness week, which is in late February. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
These memoirs tackle the psychological effects of obesity. In Passing for Thin, Kuffel, a literary agent in New York City, writes of her damaging desire for food above all else. From age 12 on, obesity gave her a reason and an excuse for everything. Finally, after a Coney Island attendant rejected her for an amusement park ride ("It'll never fit"), she found an eating disorders group at a nearby Brooklyn church. With help from her sponsors and friends, she managed to drop from 338 to 168 pounds. Kuffel surprises family and friends with her changed body, but most of all she is amazed at what she is able to do-buy "normal" clothes, fit into a booth at lunchtime, and find first love at 43. Her trip from the "Planet of Fat" to the "Planet of Girls" is funny, heartbreaking, and very, very real. Wilensky is less focused, though her theme is clear: obesity colors every part of your life-emotional, physical, and social. She and her sister, Alison, were close as youngsters until Alison became overweight at 16. Undergoing gastric bypass surgery in her late twenties, she dropped from 317 to 128 pounds, which altered every relationship she had, including those with friends and her sister. Wilensky's earlier Passing for Normal, a National Book Award nominee, described her own battle with Tourette's Syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Readers can only wonder why she did not make more of her own condition as she tries to piece together how her relationship with Alison went wrong. Nevertheless, Wilensky's appreciation and love for all that her sister is comes shining through. Both books are recommended for public libraries.-Linda Beck, Indian Valley P.L., Telford, PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
After recounting her experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder and Tourette's syndrome in National Book Award nominee Passing for Normal (1999), Wilensky now chronicles her younger sister's struggle with obesity and its impact on their relationship. The author has two stories to tell here. One is of growing up with Alison, only 13 months her junior, who's fat and then becomes thin through gastric bypass surgery. This story is animated with telling detail and wry humor as perfectionist, bookish Amy and exuberant, nonconformist Alison play and scrap and share as sisters growing up in the '70s. The second story, unfortunately, is not one the author seems well equipped to tell. She does recall herself as a picky eater and Alison as a voracious one, but she professes not to have realized that her sister was becoming fat or to have noticed until high school that Alison was a secret binge eater. As to why her sister ballooned into obesity as a teenager, Amy offers only her belief that Alison was "born with a biological imperative to gain weight." The sisters' lives took separate paths after high school, and outside of a glimpse of Alison coming into her own as an artist at the Rhode Island School of Design, her interior life is not revealed. The author gives lectures on the proper etiquette when confronting fat people, but no insights into one particular fat woman; similarly, she provides information on the gastric bypass procedure Alison chose to have in her late 20s, but nothing on her sister's reasons for choosing it. After shedding nearly 200 pounds, Alison also doffs her dark, shapeless clothes and starts life over in form-fitting hot pinks and lime greens. It would be nice to hearwhat the flamboyant former fat girl has to say about her transformation, but readers won't find it here. Funny and affecting in parts, but on the whole disappointing.
From the Publisher
"The Weight of It is more than the story of two sisters, it's a story of how and why we become the people we are." —Portland Oregonian

"Trivialized in movies, ignored in homes, glorified on the Internet, eating disorders often get the best treatment on the page. For proof and inspiration take . . . Wilensky's The Weight of It." —Entertainment Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805073126
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/5/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 203
  • Product dimensions: 5.72 (w) x 8.62 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

Amy Wilensky is a graduate of Vassar College and Columbia University’s M.F.A. writing program. Her first book, Passing for Normal, was received with critical acclaim and nominated for a National Book Award. A native of suburban Boston, she lives in New York City.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Explore the ways in which these two sisters view each other, and each one's own perspective on their shared experiences. Discuss your own experiences of a sibling relationship.

2. Obese people have a certain invisibility in our society, which is ironic considering how exposed they feel. Obesity is a public disease, impossible to conceal, even while those around them tend to ignore what makes them uncomfortable. Discuss the public/private aspects of being fat.

3. Wilensky finds that "the less you think about how other people see you, the more clearly you come to see yourself." How has Alison's persona been formed by this principle?v 4. Consequently, Amy learns much about herself through her sister. Observing their parents with their own siblings also provides insight into her relationship with Alison. Discuss these various family dynamics.

5. It is a common belief that birth order has a great influence over personality. For example, the first-born is often more jealous, anxious and neurotic, the second more playful and assertive. How does this manifest itself in the Wilenskys, and in your own family?v 6. Compulsive behavior runs in the Wilensky family -- Amy's twitch and Tourretic tic, her father's issues with his own weight. Is Alison's obesity an eating disorder beyond her control, an emotional problem that merely took a different form in her sister and in their father?

7. Once the surgery is completed the life of the family continues to revolve around Alison. Is Amy jealous of the attention Alison receives from her mother? Is she envious of her sister's new thinness and the fact that they can wear the same clothes? Discuss the difficulties of growing up in a household that revolves around the demands of one member.

8. Both sisters have trouble accepting the fact that the surgery might actually work. At fifteen, Alison lost fifty pounds at the Diet Center but she didn’t stick with it. Was she happier being fat? Did Amy not have faith in medicine, or in Alison's history of failure to control her weight? Is Amy's identity threatened by her sister's transformation?

9. Is surgery actually the easy way out? Are there any moral implications?

10. Amy reflects post-surgery, "how and why do we become the people we are?" Is it naïve to deny that we reflect what and who society tells us we are?

11. Amy evokes the novels of Lewis Carroll, and the Alice in Wonderland tale, in which the older sister's inattention to her younger sibling causes her to the fall down the rabbit hole. Discuss the ways in which these novels reflect the experiences of the Wilensky sisters.

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