I first heard Jen Petro-Roy’s name after reading the Entertainment Weekly essay she’d written about her 2018 middle grade debut P.S. I Miss You and the resistance her publisher faced about the story being “too heavy.” Petro-Roy is not afraid to address real-life issues faced by many young people today, so I was excited to have the chance to connect with her about the release of her two new middle grade books, Good Enough and You Are Enough, which speak to eating disorder recovery.
Petro-Roy’s new middle grade novel, Good Enough, is a realistic depiction of inpatient eating disorder treatment, and a moving story about a 12-year-old girl who has to fight herself to survive. You Are Enough is a self-help guide for middle grade readers that answers questions about body image and eating disorders, with tools and information for recovery.
Your two new middle grade books—You Are Enough and Good Enough—are coming out together. Wow! How did you write both books at the same time?!!
It was definitely a balance! I usually can’t work on two fiction books at the same time (I try to avoid the possibility of getting my characters’ voices and tone mixed up), but it was a bit easier to balance a fiction and a nonfiction book. My editors were also amazing enough to stagger their edits. So I ended up working on revisions to Good Enough while interviewing professionals for You Are Enough. Then while revising You Are Enough, I was finishing copyedits on Good Enough. The work was different enough that it was more complementary than confusing! I am so honored and excited to be able to write two books about recovery, both in a way that delves in the fictional feelings of Riley in Good Enough and through helpful information and tips in You Are Enough.
I love how vulnerable Riley is in Good Enough when the book opens. “There are no antibiotics that will get rid of my thoughts, which are way too powerful to be silenced. They tell me I’m not good enough. They tell me to be skinnier and prettier. To run more and eat less.” Can you say more?
One of my goals with Good Enough was to open up the mind of an eating disorder sufferer to the reader. When I was sick, I had so many people tell me that they didn’t understand the way my mind worked—that they couldn’t grasp how I said I wanted to get better but still actively did things that made me fall deeper into my illness. To me, though, my thoughts made so much sense. In Good Enough, I wanted those dealing with an eating disorder to see themselves in Riley—to know that they aren’t alone and that their brains aren’t broken. I also wanted those who haven’t suffered to learn how their loved ones could be thinking.
I’m so grateful to have gotten a lot of positive feedback so far—one reader mentioned that she herself had gone through treatment and she was amazed at how well I captured the feelings and emotions she had. I’ve also heard from a few parents that my books alerted them to warning signs they should look out for, and also ways they can modify their own behavior and way of talking about food so they won’t affect their kids’ relationship with their bodies.
You say in your author’s note: “I was a lot like Riley….” Can you share a few of things you want readers to know about your own recovery process?
Recovering from an eating disorder was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but one of the most rewarding, too. It taught me so much about myself, what I could handle, and how hard I could fight when my own mind was pushing back against me. Overall, though, what I want people to know about recovery is that it’s different for everyone. Some people are able to recover by talking to a therapist. Others need to hospitalized. Still others are just waiting for that realization to strike them—the one that makes them understand that they can’t live this way anymore. Recovery can take a long time and eating disorders can vary in severity. But if you are controlling your life and your food and your activity in a way that makes you ill or miserable or alienates you from the world, you need to get help. You need to admit your struggles. No one will judge you or think less of you for this. They want to help. And you can do this.
What do you do for self-care?
Self-care can still be a struggle for me, especially when I’m balancing writing with family, friends, and authorly responsibilities. However, a lot of what I learned as I recovered from an eating disorder is that it’s important—vital, even—to take time for myself. The thing is, self-care isn’t the same for everyone. I’ve learned over the years that I’m not a fan of baths or manicures or even yoga—lots of the traditional self-care activities don’t work for me. So I’ve learned to embrace what I do enjoy and what helps me find balance, rather than making myself do yet another “duty” in the name of self-care. Reading works for me, as does playing board games. I love to catch up on my long-standing text chain with my best friends or re-watch one of my favorite shows on Netflix. Basically, anything that gets me out of my head and lets me breathe.
You used to be a librarian! What was your favorite part about this job?
I miss so much about being a librarian and I do hope to go back someday! I worked mostly as a young adult and children’s librarian and I absolutely adored being able to talk to kids about their favorite books, recommending read-alikes, and conducting storytimes and book clubs. Although there were definitely hard moments when I had to manage difficult patrons, the joy of the interactions outweighed it all!
What are you working on now?
I am working on a new middle grade novel! Nothing that has any release date yet, but I’m always working on something. Right now I’m in the beginning stages of a new idea and am super excited about it. More news to come as I progress!