Jennifer can’t go on like thisbinging, purging, starving, and all while trying to appear like she’s got it all together. But when she finally confesses her secret to her parents and is hospitalized at the Samuel Tuke Center, her journey is only beginning.
As Jennifer progresses through her treatment, she learns to recognize her relationship with food, and friends, and familyand how each is healthy or unhealthy. She has to learn to trust herself and her own instincts, but that’s easier than it sounds. She has to believeafter many years of being a believarexic.
Using her trademark dark humor and powerful emotion, J. J. Johnson tells an inspiring story based on her own experience when she was hospitalized for an eating disorder as a teenager. The innovative format using blank verse and prose, changes in tense and voice, and forms, workbooks, and journal entries mirror Jennifer’s progress toward a healthy body and mind.
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By J. J. Johnson
Peachtree PublishersCopyright © 2015 J.J. Johnson
All rights reserved.
— Admission, Part One — Screening Interview Friday, November 18, 1988
This is it.
The phone dialed,
the appointment scheduled:
an admission screening interview
with the director of the
Eating Disorders Unit,
Samuel Tuke Center,
Syracuse, New York.
Mom had been so groggy when Jennifer
woke her last night.
Grunting, she pushed the phone away,
led Jennifer downstairs.
She snapped on the lights, and,
blinking, both rubbing their eyes,
they sat down.
Petting Spike's soft ears,
Jennifer begged her mother
to pick up the phone,
punch the buttons,
make the call.
— doesn't —
really believe that Jennifer has a problem.
But she does love her daughter.
And so she called
and made the appointment.
Jennifer knows what Mom thinks
the specialist will say:
Your daughter does not need a hospital.
Your daughter is not sick.
You are a good mother, but for some reason,
your daughter is an attention seeker.
Counseling might be a good idea, but no,
she does not have an eating disorder.
And that will be that.
* * *
They have made the drive,
an hour and a half.
Jennifer reads the directions
through downtown Syracuse,
past the War Memorial,
a left turn, a couple of blocks,
and here it is, on the right,
the Samuel Tuke Center.
The building is not fancy,
like Jennifer had pictured it.
One half looks like a shabby two-floor motel.
The other half is newer,
plain, tan brick, like a high school.
The two buildings are oddly conjoined
by a long corridor in the middle.
Mom tips the blinker, turning their car
into a small parking area,
just a few diagonal spaces
next to the older building.
There is a squalid convenience store
with iron bars on its windows
separated from this parking lot
by a chain-link fence.
Mom shifts the car into park, turns off the engine.
Jennifer reaches for the door handle.
"Better lock it," Mom says.
Jennifer pushes the lock,
checks the latch after she shuts it.
They never lock things at home.
Mom opens the door of the building
and they step into
a glass vestibule.
Jennifer yanks the interior door,
but it does not give.
They are in a transparent trap.
They are on display,
like an exhibit in a zoo:
human daughter, fifteen years old, scared;
human mother, forty years old, annoyed.
A box on the glass is labeled Press to speak.
An arrow points to a red button.
Press to speak.
Jennifer feels like Alice,
cascaded down the rabbit hole,
on the fringes of Wonderland,
the little bottle that said Drink me.
Will this button shrink Jennifer,
like the potion shrunk Alice?
Or will it be more like the cake,
the one with currants?
Will she expand like Alice did,
so huge she can't fit through doorways?
Mom presses the button.
A voice squawks,
"You have an appointment?"
They can see the receptionist,
her mouth moving,
but her voice comes through the speaker,
"Yes, with" — Mom flips through a small notepad —
"Dr. Wexler," Mom repeats.
"No. Patient's name," the receptionist says.
Mom's face whitens,
as if she is stunned.
Patient is both
"Jennifer Johnson," Mom says.
A loud buzz fills the space.
An automatic latch thunks.
Mom opens the door.
"Follow me," the receptionist says.
She unlocks another door with one key
from a massive keychain.
They climb a flight of stairs.
Light blue carpeting,
walls painted to match the carpet.
At the top of the stairs is another locked door.
More key jangling.
Jennifer studies the grimy fingerprints
along the handrail.
This is too foreign a place.
There are too many locks.
Too many strange noises.
Maybe Jennifer has changed her mind.
While the receptionist looks for the right key,
the door swings open from the other side,
held by a man who says,
"Jennifer and Juanita?"
"I am Dr. Wexler," he says. "Please, come this way.
Thank you," he tells the receptionist.
"I'll call you when we're done."
Dr. Wexler shakes their hands,
says, "Nice to meet you."
He is tall, with gray hair, gray beard, glasses,
and flabby stomach.
He notices Jennifer peering down the hall
and says, "The EDU begins a few doors down."
Eating Disorders Unit.
Where are the patients?
How skinny are they?
"Come in, Jennifer."
She follows Mom.
His office is dim,
lit with lamps,
slatted blinds drawn.
The furniture smells of mold and cigarettes.
Framed diplomas cover the wall.
Bookshelves sag under the weight of heavy books.
Mom settles onto the small couch.
Jennifer sits, slumping away from her.
Dr. Wexler sits in a big leather desk chair
and crosses one knee over the other.
"Well. Let's get started."
He opens a manila file folder,
rests it on his lap,
straightens papers inside the file,
and the questions begin.
"Can you tell me why you're here today?"
He directs the question at Mom.
Jennifer's skin prickles;
her stomach rises into her throat.
Finally this is going to happen.
"Jennifer says she has an eating disorder,"
Mom tells Dr. Wexler.
Not: Jennifer has an eating disorder.
Jennifer did her research.
She watched the movies
and the "very special episodes,"
she read all the library books.
This is not the way it's supposed to happen.
What Is Supposed to Happen
Jennifer's parents see she is sick. They are worried about her, bordering on panic. They rush her to the hospital. Nurses lay her on a gurney, fly her through halls.
The doctors stabilize Jennifer. She settles into her sunlit hospital room. Her whole family cries at her bedside, asking for her forgiveness, pleading with Jennifer to please, please, our baby girl, please get better. Of course, at first Jennifer is stubborn; she resists treatment. But then another patient in the hospital dies — probably, but not necessarily, her roommate — and Jennifer has an epiphany. She becomes open to recovery. She covers her walls with magazine collages and vision boards. Slowly she gets better, with the help of sympathetic nurses and a near-retirement doctor who is gruff but obviously loves her very, very much (more than any other patient, although he would never say so).
After a few weeks Jennifer emerges from the hospital, walking between her parents' arms, holding a bouquet of balloons leftover from her room. She is still skinny, but she will be okay.
She makes a triumphant return to school, most likely at her prom. Her best friend Kelly is named prom queen, but Kelly sets the crown on Jennifer's head instead, in front of everyone. Kelly makes an impromptu speech about how Jennifer deserves it more, because of how brave Jennifer has been, and how proud she is — how proud they all are — of Jennifer's courage. The whole school cheers.
Fade to black, roll credits.
"Her father and I ...," Mom says,
"we don't think ...
well, er ... she's not failing school,
she's not collapsing."
But not for lack of effort.
She's not collapsing.
She's not failing school.
She's failing this.
(But also: success.
She is so good at hiding her obsession
her compulsions, her vomiting,
her hidden bottles of wine and boxes of diet pills,
that Mom and Dad do not have a clue.)
Still, the biggest strike against Jennifer
is that she wants to be here in this room.
Because if you ask for help with your problem, then, by definition,
you do not have much of a problem.
Dr. Wexler writes notes in the file.
He looks at Jennifer.
"Do you ever feel dizzy or light-headed?"
She picks at the hem of her pants,
her favorite pair of ankle-zip Guess jeans.
Dr. Wexler asks, "When?"
"When I stand up," she says.
"Do you get leg cramps?"
"Yes, my calves, in bed at night."
"What did you eat yesterday?"
"One slice of toast and a glass of
orange juice for breakfast,
skim milk for lunch,
mashed potatoes and green beans at dinner,
a bowl of cereal later."
"Do you purge by making yourself throw up?"
Mom is here. What will she think?
Will Mom even believe her?
"Um, yes," Jennifer says.
"Er, it depends. One or two or three times a day."
"And did you purge yesterday?"
Again, Jennifer nods.
"When, yesterday? At what time?"
So many secrets spilling out in front of Mom.
"Last night," Jennifers says quietly.
"After the cereal."
"Do you take laxatives, diet pills, or diuretics?"
"Yes, laxatives. Yes, diet pills. Diuretics, no."
"How many? How often?"
"Not many. A diet pill every day,
laxatives every day, but just one or two.
I'm not physically addicted,
like when you have to take hundreds."
"How much do you exercise?"
"And what does that mean?"
"I take dance classes three times a week.
I do aerobics the other days.
Sometimes I jog."
"How often do you weigh yourself?"
"Four times a day."
"How long would you say you've had
"I don't know." She hesitates again.
"I started dieting and throwing up
in eighth grade."
"So that was ..."
"Two years ago."
"Do you consume alcohol or illegal drugs?"
Jennifer can feel Mom's eyes
lasering into her neck.
"Um. I drink. I've smoked pot a couple times,
but nothing big."
Mom makes a clicking sound in her throat.
The questions are merciless.
Answering them in front of Mom is agony.
Dr. Wexler continues,
"How often do you drink?"
"Um. Every weekend that I can.
Friday and Saturday nights."
"When was the most recent time
you drank alcohol?"
"Saturday night. This past weekend."
She stares at her hands.
"When was the first time you became inebriated?"
"Drunk," Mom interjects, coldly.
"Oh," Jennifer says. Her face burns.
"Uh, not this past summer,
but the one before.
When I had just turned fourteen."
"When was your last menstrual period?"
Safer territory. "Not sure.
Maybe two, three months ago?"
"Have you ever attempted suicide?"
"Um. Kind of."
Mom takes in a quick, loud breath.
"I ... cut my wrists a few times. But not deep."
"Were you ever in serious danger?"
"No. My parents didn't even know."
Mom sighs. Regretful? Irritated? Worried?
"Have you ever been hospitalized
for your eating disorder, or from self-harm?"
Mom's head whips toward her,
but Jennifer still can't meet her eyes.
"Sort of? Can you explain?"
"Uh, well, at summer camp, I wasn't eating,
so I got dizzy and semi-passed out
and kind of also ... threw myself down the stairs
because I wanted to go home
and my parents wouldn't come get me.
The camp sent me to a hospital for X-rays
and kept me overnight.
So it was related to the fact
that I wasn't eating. Kind of."
Jennifer doesn't want Mom here.
She's hidden this so long,
from Mom knowing.
Years of secrets
are unraveling with every answer
to every question.
Because they are the right questions this time.
Dr. Wexler asks, "Does your heart race?"
"Have you ever fainted fully,
to the point of lost consciousness?"
"I don't think so."
"How is your sleep?"
"Not so good.
It's hard to fall asleep.
And I wake up a lot during the night."
"Do you ever dream about food?"
"Oh God. Yes. All the time.
How did you know that?"
"And what about school? How are your grades?"
"Are you missing school
because of your eating disorder?"
"Sometimes I don't feel good enough to go.
But my parents usually force me to."
"Do you participate in extracurricular activities?"
"Dance, like I said.
Student government, honor society.
I have an after-school job
teaching art to little kids.
And babysitting, if that counts."
Mom straightens up and says,
"I called her counselor, and he said that
obviously she's doing well in school,
and in all her activities. Which indicates that
she does not need to be hospitalized."
Dr. Wexler raises his eyebrows, high,
above the frames of his glasses.
"On the contrary," he says.
"Most of our patients are straight-A students.
Eating disordered girls will do
to keep their grades up."
Almost anything. Yes.
Yes. Almost anything.
Yes, Dr. Wexler, yes, thank you, yes.
"Oh." Mom deflates slowly,
like a punctured tire.
Dr. Wexler asks,
"Does this come as a surprise?
You scheduled this appointment,
"I called because Jennifer asked me to.
Her father and I can see she hasn't been happy,
but she has a history of needing attention —"
And here it comes.
"Don't you remember?
Don't you remember when I came home wasted,
drunk out of my mind,
puking all over the place last year?
And I told you I don't eat
and I purge all the time,
and I want to die?"
"Yes, I remember," Mom snaps.
"That's why we took you to counseling."
Her mother looks at Dr. Wexler and continues,
"That is the counselor I mentioned. He said
hospitalization isn't necessary."
Turning back to Jennifer, Mom says,
"He sounded as though
this eating disorder business
was news to him."
"Because I was hiding it, Mom!"
Jennifer is on the verge of hysteria.
"Okay. Fine," she says. "Then what about the time
I took all those caffeine pills in eighth grade?
I confessed to the nurse
I'd been throwing up and dieting!"
Mom purses her lips and says to Dr. Wexler,
"The school nurse
and Jennifer's guidance counselor —
both of them told us quite clearly
that the dieting was just a phase."
The air is heavy, thick, and quiet
except for Jennifer's sniffing,
because she is crying now.
Dr. Wexler looks from one to the other of them,
mother to daughter,
daughter to mother,
like this is quite interesting,
professionally, clinically interesting.
Mom clears her throat and asks,
"Do you think —
does it seem like —
she should be hospitalized?"
Jennifer's ears burn.
This is the moment.
Here is the expert.
"If she's dizzy and
light-headed, it would suggest
her blood pressure is a concern
and her electrolytes may be imbalanced.
Leg cramps indicate a potassium deficiency.
And her weight is, obviously, quite low."
Excerpted from Be?liev?a?rex?ic by J. J. Johnson. Copyright © 2015 J.J. Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Peachtree Publishers.
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
This spoke to me and gave me ways to cope with my disorder.
Jennifer is finally tired of having the monster inside telling her that she wasn't good or skinny enough. She went to her parents that didn't believe that she had an issue, but went ahead and signed her in to a Eating Disorder facility. While there, she had to eat everything that was given to her, go to individual/group/family therapies, and deal with untrusting nurses. Jennifer has many realizations that deal with the individual, family, and friend relationships. This true fiction Young Adult novel, starts with her realizing that she wants help and ending when she leaves the facility. I do not feel qualified to review this book, as I have never been in any type of facility or therapy, and I don't mean this as bragging. Some of the insights that Jennifer comes to in the novel struck a cord with me on how my relationships have progressed or even came to be. JJ did her best to not give numbers or specifics of the disease, most likely to keep from triggering other people. I would recommend this book to parents of teens, and teens that may be struggling with some thing in their lives. This honest review was inspired by the free digital ARC given to me by Peachtree Publishers via NetGalley!
She tried to release him but his hold on her was too tight. The monster has taken over Jennifer life, the pain and fight has consumed her and the only way out Jennifer believed, was in the advertisement that she saw on television. She has tried others ways to release him but the monster has always prevailed and now this might be the only way to kill him. It was the commercial on television that gave her hope for her friends had given up on her and her parents; they never say the signs for she was the perfect child. Jennifer was relieved that she made it to the center for she was finally going to get the help she needed and kill the monster. With her mother present, Jennifer answered the questions honestly as the doctor drilled her; she knew the truth was more than her mother could take. The truth had now been spoken and there is no turning back, welcome to Samuel Tuke Center EDU (Eating Disorder Unit) where Jennifer’s life has just become an open book. There are many layers to an eating disorder and this novel focuses on many of them. The emotional, the physical and the psychological aspects are addressed with many of the characters in this novel including Jennifer. I was surprised that more anger did not pour out of the pages, as these individuals confronted their eating disorder. For these characters lives were being drastically changed and they were being told what to do by individuals in a hospital setting away from their loved ones. Some of them were forced into the program and this had to cause some hard feelings. Eating disorders are an illness that is not immediately treated and cured; this disease is a lifetime issue that affects many facets of individual’s lives and the author did an excellent job handling this. Now that Jennifer is inside these walls, things look different. Jennifer cannot hide, she is held accountable and she has to take responsibility for herself and her life. You can either cheat the program or change your life, and the individuals in the program have to make that choice. Jennifer knows about lying but she chose to be there, her emotions are high as she realizes she is alone and needs to make some of her own decisions. The relationships in this unit are not all supportive of each other and the individuals who are in control of the patients create an interesting mix and it makes this novel one that I could not put down. 4.5 stars I received this novel from NetGalley and Peachtree Publishers in exchange for an honest review.