Hunger
by Jackie Morse Kessler, fantasy (2010)
Graphia, $8.99, ISBN 978-0-547-34124-8


I know I'm temporarily on a break from young adult stories, but Hunger sounds too interesting for me to give it a miss.

Imagine: a sixteen-year old anorexic young lady, Lisabeth Lewis, discovering herself being appointed as Famine, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This story is an exploration of her new role as well as her increasing estrangement from her boyfriend, her father, and her good friend due to her refusal to acknowledge her eating disorder.

The story sounds simple, but there is nothing simple about the way Ms Kessler deals with Lisabeth's eating disorder. While the story can get very heavy-handed, especially late in the story with the whole "anorexia is a very serious issue - you need to get help" theme, Lisabeth manages to remain a very real young person instead of a posting girl for eating disorder PSA. There is nothing clear cut or simple about all the angst, anger, and confusion that she harbors inside her - Lisabeth comes off as a young lady who believes that she is normal even as she is slowly losing control of things, and her reaction to people trying to help her is understandable. Those people are trying to help her in all the wrong ways. Ultimately, Lisabeth has to accept that she has a problem before she can open up to them.

But while this book is a solid look into the troubled psyche of a young lady, it is a rather half-baked urban fantasy romp. Hunger would have been so, so good if the author had written this story to be twice as long in order to allow more development to take place in the story. I would have loved to learn more about the Four Horsemen and their roles. Poor War is reduced to being another stereotypical female villain who can't stand the cute heroine, but Pestilence especially is quite an intriguing fellow. It would be great to know why Death picked Lisabeth to be Famine. Also, it will be fun if Lisabeth is allowed to explore more about her job. As it is in this story, she has barely started to discover the upside of her job (being Famine doesn't have to be all about death and hunger) when the story ends.

Hunger is an interesting change from the usual glut of "British exchange student arrives at Mary Sue's class to stare at her while behaving like he murders rabbits on the sly, oh how romantic" paranormal stories in the young adult section, but it succeeds better at being a stark look into a troubled teen's head with an uplifting ending. The paranormal elements are not developed enough for my liking, they seem like plot devices inserted to give Lisabeth's journey of self-discovery a fantastic feel. So yes, I Hunger for more after reading this story - it's an intense and emotional read, but it is not exactly a filling meal, so to speak.

Rating: 76


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