"A hilarious, heartbreaking book." —People
Named one of the best books of the year by NPR, The Atlantic, Time Out New York, and The Globe and Mail
Growing up in the suburban hell of Misery Saga (a.k.a. Mississauga), Lizzie has never liked the way she looks—even though her best friend Mel says she’s the pretty one. She starts dating guys online, but she’s afraid to send pictures, even when her skinny friend China does her makeup: she knows no one would want her if they could really see her. So she starts to lose. With punishing drive, she counts almonds consumed, miles logged, pounds dropped. She fights her way into coveted dresses. She grows up and gets thin, navigating double-edged validation from her mother, her friends, her husband, her reflection in the mirror. But no matter how much she loses, will she ever see herself as anything other than a fat girl?
In her brilliant, hilarious, and at times shocking debut, Mona Awad simultaneously skewers the body image-obsessed culture that tells women they have no value outside their physical appearance, and delivers a tender and moving depiction of a lovably difficult young woman whose life is hijacked by her struggle to conform. As caustically funny as it is heartbreaking, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl introduces a vital new voice in fiction.
WINNER OF THE AMAZON CANADA FIRST NOVEL AWARD
FINALIST FOR THE SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
FINALIST FOR THE COLORADO BOOK AWARD FOR LITERARY FICTION
LONGLISTED FOR THE DUBLIN LITERARY AWARD
ARAB AMERICAN BOOK AWARD HONORABLE MENTION FOR FICTION
NAMED ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2016 BY ELLE, BUSTLE, AND THE GLOBE AND MAIL
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE MONTH BY THE HUFFINGTON POST, BUSTLE AND BOOKRIOT
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.70(d)|
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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
When We Went Against the Universe
We went against the universe at the McDonald’s on the corner of Wolfedale and Mavis. On a sunny afternoon. Mel and I hate sunny afternoons. Especially here in Misery Saga, which is what you’re allowed to call Mississauga if you live there. In Misery Saga, there is nothing to do with sunny afternoons but all the things we have already done a thousand times. We’ve lain on our backs in the grass, listening to the same discman, one earphone each, watching the same clouds pass. We’ve walked in the woodlot pretending to pretend that it is Wonderland, even though when you stand in the heart of it, you can still hear cars drive by. We’ve eaten dry cupcakes at that dessert place down the road where all the other kids go. We don’t like other kids but we went anyway, just for the bustle. We’ve sat behind the bleachers sharing Blizzards from Dairy Queen, the wind making our Catholic school kilts flap against our stubbly knees. Our favorite was the one with the pulverized brownies and nuts and chocolate sauce, but they don’t make it anymore for some reason. So we’re at the McDonald’s on the corner eating McFlurries, which everyone knows aren’t as good as Blizzards, even when you tell them to mix more things in.
We’re bored out of our minds as usual, having exhausted every topic of conversation. There is only so much Mel and I can say about the girls we hate or the bands and books we love on a scale of one to ten. There is only so much we can play of The Human Race Game, which is when we eliminate the whole human race and only put back in the people we can stand and only if we both agree. There is only so much we can talk about how we’d give it up and what we’d be wearing and with which boy and what he’d be wearing and what album might be playing in the background. We’ve established, for the second time today, that for Mel it would be a red velvet dress, the drummer from London After Midnight, Renaissance wear, and Violator. For me: a purple velvet dress, Vince Merino, a vintage suit, and Let Love In, but it changes.
So we decide to do The Fate Papers. The Fate Papers is Mel’s name for when you tear off two small bits of paper and write No on one piece and Yes on the other. You shake the two balled up pieces in your hands while you close your eyes and ask the universe your question. You can ask aloud or in your mind. Mel and I both prefer in your mind but sometimes, if it is an urgent matter, like now, we ask aloud. The first paper that drops is the answer. Now we are asking if Mel should call Eric to see if he likes the CD she made him of her favorite Lee Hazlewood songs. The Fate Papers already said No, but we’re doing two out of three because that couldn’t be right even though The Fate Papers are never wrong. Next, we are going to ask if I should try talking to Vince Merino again after yesterday’s fiasco attempt.
The Fate Papers say No to Mel again, then No to me.
The universe is against us, which makes sense. So we get another McFlurry and talk about how fat we are for a while. But it doesn’t matter how long we talk about it, or how many times Mel assures me she’s a fucking whale beneath her clothes, I know I’m fatter. Not by a little either. Mel has an ass, I’ll give her that, but that’s all I’ll give her.
If I win the fat argument then Mel will say, so what I’m way prettier than she is but I think face-wise we’re about the same. I haven’t really grown into my nose yet or discovered the arts of starving myself and tweezing. So I’ll be honest with you. In this story, I don’t look that good, except for maybe my skin which Mel claims she would kill for. Also my tits. Mel says they’re huge and she assures me it’s a good thing. Maybe even too much of a good thing, she says. It’s Mel who got me using the word tits. I have trouble calling them anything even in my thoughts. They embarrass me and all the words for them embarrass me, but I’m trying, for Mel’s sake, to name my assets. Even with my tits, though, it’s still Mel who looks better. She’s got psoriasis and a mustache she has to bleach (we both do) and still. It’s definitely Mel who has any hope in hell with any of the boys we like. Which is I guess why she claims the men at the next table were looking at her first.
I hadn’t even noticed them. I was busy eating my Oreo McFlurry, hunting for the larger pieces of Oreo that sometimes got trapped at the bottom, which I hate. It’s Mel who points the men out saying three o clock to me without moving her lips or making much noise. I turn and see three businessmen sitting in the booth next to us, eating Big Macs. I assume they are businessmen because they are wearing business suits but they could just as easily have been suit salesmen or bank tellers. At any rate, they are men, their hands full of veins and hairs, each pair of hands gripping a bit-into Big Mac.
Mel said they were totally checking her out. I look at them again and none of them seem to be looking at us. They don’t even seem to be looking at each other. They’re looking at their burgers or into space.
No, Mel said. They were looking at her tits. Mel is exceedingly proud of her tits. What she loves most is the mole on the top of her left breast. She wears Wonderbras and low-cut tops to show it off.
I want a boob guy, she always tells me. I wouldn’t want a butt guy because I hate my butt.
Yeah, I say, in sympathy.
I hate it, she clarifies. But boys love it. They always give me compliments. Still, I wouldn’t want a butt guy. He’d always want to do it from behind.
Yeah, I would say, in sympathy again. We both agree we’d never want a leg guy.
The reason the men were looking, according to Mel, was because she’d been giving off sex vibes all day. I never know what she means by this. My best guess is something between an animal scent and a cosmic force. Mel always says it had to do with the universe. What happens is the universe feels her sex vibes and transmits them to other like-minded men and women. Mel says these particular men could feel her sex vibes. That’s why they looked. She was giving off enough of them for both of us. Which is why they looked at me too. They’re totally checking us both out, she says. They checked her out first, of course. But now they’re checking us both out.
I say, Really?
And she says, Totally. Doesn’t that make you horny?
I hate the word horny. It makes me think of sweat and snorting and wiry hairs.
I guess, I say. Though it really, really doesn’t. The men aren’t really attractive. I mean they’re fine I guess. But they have these little blinky businessmen eyes and one of them even has grey hair. They look like they are around my father’s age. I hardly see my father since he left, but I know he has a lot of girlfriends. Mainly women he works with at the hotel where he’s a manager. I find traces of them with on my infrequent visits to his apartment—feathery, complicated lingerie between his balled up black socks, a box of tampons under the sink. And then in with his cologne bottles shaped like male torsos, I’ll find a perfume that smells sickly sweet. One time one of them left a message on the machine saying she missed his body oh so much. I can’t even imagine missing my father’s body and not just because he is my father. No, none of this was making me especially horny. But I say it sort of is because I know if I don’t play along Mel will be angry and a pain to hang out with.
Wouldn’t it be fun, she says, if we went up to them and propositioned them?
To do what? I say.
To like, I don’t know, she sighs. Let us suck them off. For money. I’d say we’re each worth at least fifty bucks. Maybe even a hundred.
Mel’s a bit of slut. But you can’t ever call her that. She hates the word slut and gets pissed if anybody around her uses it. She got super pissed at our friend Katherine once, this girl at our school who wants to be a nun, because Katherine says slut about people she doesn’t like and she says it, according to Mel, with a mouth full of hate. I tell Mel what does she expect from a girl who only wants to be touched by the hand of God? Mel says it doesn’t matter and really hates Katherine even though we’re all friends.
Mel had to change schools even because they kept calling her a slut. Mostly behind her back, but sometimes even to her face like in an 80s movie. Something about a boy she really liked who already had a girlfriend but the boy found out Mel liked him and started to like her back without breaking up with his girlfriend. So when Mel found out the boy liked her back, she gave him a blow job in the woodlot. But then his girlfriend found out about it and got everyone in the school to start calling Mel a slut whenever she walked by. I guess the boy must have felt guilty about the blow job and decided to tell his girlfriend. Or he was proud of it and just couldn’t stop himself. Whatever it was, Mel couldn’t take it and had to change schools. That’s how I met her and we started getting bored together.
People call Mel a slut at our school too. Because of what she wears on days when we don’t wear our uniforms but also because of what she wears on regular days which is nylon thigh highs instead of the itchy wooly tights we’re supposed to wear. And she rolls her kilt all the way up so you can see where the thigh highs end. My mother thinks this is why people call Mel a slut. But I don’t think so. Not to sound like an old fart, but you should see girls these days. Some girls roll their kilts all the way up to their crotch. I wear mine down to my knees, but sometimes I’ll roll it up just a little on the way to school. But then it always rolls back down by itself. It’s fine. Later on I’m going to be really fucking beautiful. I’m going to grow into that nose and develop an eating disorder. I’ll be hungry and angry all of my life but I’ll also have a hell of a time.
For minutes now, Mel has been seriously calculating how much we might be worth to these businessmen. She has now decided that our youth and the fact that we’re both virgins—in her case, only technically—makes us way more expensive than she initially thought.
At least 300 dollars, she finally said. What do you think?
At the very, very least, I say, playing along. I try to use a voice that tells her I’m just playing along.
I look at the men more closely. Two are fine. But one of them is rather flabby and pale with little worm husk lips and a look of hunger in his eyes that his Big Mac is not filling. His whole face reminds me of the word horny. I know if it comes to down to it, this is the one I’ll get stuck with.
But where are we going to go with these guys? I ask.
I’ll bet one of them’s got a big, black car, Mel says. Big enough for all of us.
Mel looks out the Windex-streaked window into the parking lot. I look with her.
There are no cars like that in the parking lot.
There’s more parking in back, Mel says.
She says, You go ask them.
You go, I say. It’s your idea.
She looks at me and takes a deep breath and says Okay and gets up and I say, Wait.
Let’s go to the bathroom first.
When we get up to go to the bathroom, Mel saunters up to the three men and says Hey in what she thinks is her sexiest voice. To me, though, the only difference between it and her normal voice is that it just sounds louder. In this voice, she asks them if they might happen to know the time.
All three of these men are wearing wristwatches but only one of them—the fat, pale, horny one—consults his. The other two exchange a glance and keep eating.
It’s about 5:30, he says, looking up at us. And I notice that when he does, his little businessman eyes do this little dip from our faces to our chests. It’s the littlest dip you can imagine. But it’s all Mel can talk about when we get to the bathroom.
Could you beeelieeeeve that guy? I mean, he was slobbering all ohhhver us.
And I say, Totally, I know. He totally was.
And she says, Oh my god, Lizzie, we have to do this.
And I agree. We have to.
It was Dress Down Day, which means that though we came from school, we’re not wearing our uniforms. This Dress Down Day had a theme. Normally Mel and I steer clear of the themes because of how lame they usually are, but this one was The Sixties which we guessed was cool enough. Everybody dressed up like a hippie including me but Mel did something cooler. She found this mini dress with a whacked out red and white pattern at Value Village for like seven bucks. So she’s wearing that and her lips are covered with a silvery frost which she is now reapplying in the mirror. Her eyelids are lined thickly on top with black liquid liner. All day she got compliments from everyone, even though we know no one except Katherine. Girls we both hate kept coming up to Mel and saying things like, Love your dress. And then Mel said, Thanks, and when the girl was out of ear shot Mel finished with Bitch. And we both laughed.
I finish putting on my lipstick and I watch Mel apply a fresh coat of eyeliner to one closed eye, and I say But we can’t have sex with them.
Mel waves the coat of eyeliner dry with a hand.
Oh my god, she says, of course not. Are you crazy?
I heave a sigh of relief. Okay good, I say.
We’re just going to suck them off in their car, she says. It’ll like make their whole lives.
Alright, I say, and run my tongue over my teeth.
I pray the businessmen won’t be there when we get back, but they’re there. And one of them, our friend, the time-teller, even smiles at us. Mel takes a step toward their table; they all look up. Then just as she takes a breath and starts to open her mouth, I grab her hand and pull her back.
What? She hisses.
Let’s do The Fate Papers real quick, I hiss back.
Mel sighs and sits down with me back at our booth.
I watch as she lamely shuffles the crumbled bits of napkin. I close my eyes tight and ask the universe as hard I can in my mind.
When the paper drops, I pick it up off the table and unfold it.
Yes, written with purple ink in Mel’s loopy hand.
I make her do two out of three.
Now what? she says, as we both stare the crumpled Yes of the universe in the face for the second time.
By then the businessmen are getting up, clearing their trays. The horny one, though, he takes his time, smiling at me on the way out in a manner that I can only describe as trying for fatherly but coming off more like a creepy uncle. Mel and I look at each other and make a face and fake a shudder and laugh.
Later on, Mel would climb into cars and taxis with men she barely knew while I watched from the sidewalk. She would agree to blow a guy in the stall of a men’s bathroom near Union Station for fifty dollars.. She would wear her Catholic school uniform long after she had dropped out of high school for a man from Sudbury who looked exactly like Sloth from The Goonies.
Much later on, in the back of a parked van, my wrists would get tied together with a pair of dirty gym socks and I would get terrible head from a political science major who would tell me my inability to come was psychological. I would go to a park with a man ten years older than me, an Indian physicist. After explaining resonance to me with violent hand gestures, he would dry hump me between the rocks bordering the man-made creek. Years before that, in a hotel room in the next suburb, I would go down on a man old enough to be my father—a friend of my mother’s—every day after school for a week or so until this man felt so guilty he told my mother and I never saw him again. All that week, this man would pay for my taxi ride from school to the hotel. And I would ride in it, lipstick matching my nail polish, bra matching my underwear, feeling like a girl in a movie until I got there and then when I got there, and saw him waving at me by the entrance, ready to pay the driver, I would not feel like that anymore. He would say, You look nice, in the elevator on the way up, if we were alone. Nice, not beautiful. Never would this man or any man call me beautiful, not for a long, long time.
They would have totally gone for it. You know they would have, Mel says, handing me an earbud, as we both rise from the booth. Especially that one guy.
Yeah, I say, putting the bud in my right ear.
And The Fate Papers said Yes, she adds, putting the bud’s twin in her left ear and pushing a button on the Discman, “Some Velvet Morning” swelling in our respective ears.
You know what that means? she says. That means the universe wanted us to blow those guys.
So what happens when you go against the universe? I ask her, as we leave behind the golden arches and enter the suddenly ominous maw of a Misery Saga night.
I don’t know, she says, thoughtful. I’ve never done it before. I guess we’ll see.
As we walk to her house under black-bellied clouds we consider the question, careful to walk the same measured steps side by side so the cord wouldn’t pull too far in either direction.
Excerpted from "13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl"
Copyright © 2016 Mona Awad.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really don’t know what was so hilarious about this novel. From reading the synopsis, I expected some humorous moments while I read but in reality, I didn’t find anything funny. I did find a novel that I think reflected the situation at hand. No, I didn’t think this novel was sad, I thought it reflected the reality of what some individuals must face every day. Being overweight, Misery went through a lot of self-discovery and change, as she tried to deal with her situation. Misery knew she was overweight and as a teen, she craved for attention. She was more concerned about pleasing others than herself. As the novel continued, her behavior started to bother me. She was reckless, she was going downhill, her self-esteem was suffering but she couldn’t see what was actually happening. Then, Misery changed. She became overly concerned about food and her body image. The weight started to come off but had she just changed her focus and not herself internally? It’s a good novel that addresses how some woman feel about their bodies and how society influences it. I didn’t feel that this novel dove as deep as it should when addressing this issue. I did enjoy the short chapters but I wanted more. Weight and self-esteem go hand-in-hand in this issue as Misery shared her life with me.
Because I've been a sufferer of both an under and overactive thyroid, I am always exercising, walking and watching what I'm eating. I don't have an emotional tie to my weight- at least not in the sense that many others fight through, but I do have things I'm working on. That being said, when I saw this book in my book stash, I was pretty excited! I thought to myself, "I think I'm gonna like this..." I didn't like this. I won't give away any SPOILERS, but I can say I was very let down by this book. I was so upset by it, the only reason I finished the book was due, only to my literary obligations. So here's my review. First, it's a very well written novel. Awad shared her feelings in a way that allowed me to relate to her situation She was real and open about eating, social awkwardness and the opposite sex. I was like : "Yes! That was me too!" But that was where the similarities ended. Liz was desperate and hard up for attention while over-weight, an unhappy thin person with an eating disorder. It was very frustrating for for me as the reader, because she never found herself. There was n medium and she just came off as pathetic. This book showed how emotionally hazardous one can be if they don't love themselves. The protagonist was so dependent I was angry and actually threw the book against my office door! *For the full review: http://bit.ly/13WaysofLookingatAFatGirl **Book released by Penguin Random House.
Original review @ 125Pages.com Everything in me wanted to like 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. I had it on my most anticipated debuts of 2016 list. Everything I read about it sounded magical. I was super excited to get it and dropped everything to read it. And then, upon ending it, I was saddened as the hype was there, but the story was not. Set in thirteen chapters, the story tracked the life of Lizzy, a girl who only sees herself through the filter of being a “fat girl”. Her filter is everything to her; it inhabits every part of her being and she cannot see past it. And that is the inherent downfall of the book. There is no emotional growth, no hook. It is just a sad girl getting sadder while trying to change her outside, and never working on her inside. The writing by Mona Awad was interesting, but lacked emotion. Each of the thirteen chapters jumped into a specific time period in Lizzy’s life. It read more as a short story collection than a cohesive tale. The jumping ensured you saw the significant moments in the main characters life, but you never learned who Lizzy truly was. It was as if you were looking through a window at her, a haze over her life. The pacing, as mentioned, was not cohesive. At times the story would jump only one year and then it would jump five. There was no true world created, only observations. Lizzy as the main character was draining. Never happy as herself, she constantly changed her name (Liz, Elizabeth, Beth, etc.) to help create a new person. She alienated those who cared about her, as she could never see her own self worth. I could see where Mona Awad was trying to go with 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. At the heart of it, there is potential in the story and I can see people loving it. I however, need that emotional tie to a world or character to really get the book. I would read Awad’s next book, as there was something in the writing. However, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl just didn’t click with me. I received this book for free from Netgalley, Penguin First to Read in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Mona Awad’s debut novel, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, is perplexing at best. Young Lizzie is coming of age in Mississauga (‘Misery Saga’). She is a fat girl and subjects herself to the constant belief that her cards in life have been stacked against her. She isn’t a prom queen, nor the up and coming valedictorian. Rather, she is a robustly plump young lady and therefore must take her place at the back of the line (in her view). Lizzie is in that place in her life when boys are of interest, but what boy wants to date a fat girl? Thank goodness for the internet and online dating. It is her cocoon of a safety net because they cannot see her live and in the flesh. Online dating is just one of the many choices Lizzie migrates toward in trying to sort out her miserable life. She is uncomfortable in her own skin and compounds such discomfort by connecting with sordid sorts who have a fair amount of self-loathing going on in their respective lives. There is underage sex, ditching school, drug experimentation and a plethora of other unsavory choices Lizzie seems to think are what her path in life is meant to be. And then the clouds part and Lizzie takes charge of her life—parsing out a handful of almonds to satisfy her robust appetite followed by healthier food choices. Sadly, through the myriad of alternative measures to morph into a different being, what will always lurk beneath her surface is the view and vision of the fat girl that never quite disappears. I say Ms. Awad’s debut novel is perplexing at best because I do not know where she is going throughout this little more than 200-page work of fiction. One chapter ends and the next begins and the tie between the two is non-existent. In essence, there are a series of stand-alone diatribes of a ‘fat girl’ who is trying to find her way; yet the only theme I am able to pick up throughout this read is a person who is on a course of self-destruction even after she thins down. It is difficult to find Ms. Awad’s voice throughout this read and I’m not sure the beginning ever transitions to the middle or ever carries the reader to the proverbial ‘the end’. I think Ms. Awad has admirable credentials concerning her education. However, in my opinion, there are those who write and they do it well because it is their artistic gift (or calling). On the other hand, there are also those who write because they believe their education says they should given their successful and impressive academic achievements. Perhaps the latter should stick to teaching. For the record, I’m not a ‘fat girl.’ Quill says: 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is a fragmented delivery of vignettes lacking in cohesive continuity and purpose.