Hunger, by Jackie Morse Kessler (Graphia, 2010, YA, 180 pages).
I'd read a couple of reviews of this one before picking it up, so going into it, I knew it was about Lisa, a girl with anorexia (and in denial about it), who is chosen by Death to become the new incarnation of Famine, riding around on her Steed of Doom in Horseman of the Apocalypse fashion, famine-ing. I also knew the cover looked Dark (see cover at left--dark). And I knew that people liked it.
So I was expecting well-written Darkness, that tackled a serious issue in a fantastical way.
But I was rather pleasantly surprised to find that Famine isn't just that--it's also incredibly entertaining! It made me chuckle!
Lisa's voice is in turns sardonic, wry, bitter, sincere, and engaging--I cared what happened to her, sympathized with her situation (not just the whole stressful business of having to be Famine, while starving herself to death, but her family circumstances), and enjoyed her company. I also liked the author's voice lots, but I can't quite find the word for it--something along the lines of wry, tongue in check, sardonic but in a nice way, a tad amused by her own story but taking it seriously, sincere but lighthearted, caring deeply about the issue she (very knowledgeably) writes about but not letting it take over the story...that sort of thing.
Anyway, I knew by the end of the second paragraph that I would enjoy the book:
"And yet there she was, Lisabeth Lewis, seventeen and no longer thinking about killing herself, holding the Scales of office. Famine, apparently, had scales--an old-fashioned balancing device made of brass or bronze or some other metal. What she was supposed to do with the Scales, she had no idea. Then again, the whole "Thou are the Black Rider; go thee out unto the world" thing hadn't really sunk in yet." (page 1)
But my favorite character is Famine's horse. Food obsessed (not surprisingly), with a special fondness for pralines. Lisa decides to call him Midnight; "Well," Death said, "at least you didn't go with Muffin." (page 53)
Yet despite light touches such as this, Kessler is tackling a serious issue here. Lisa is killing her self. The Thin voice inside her head is a harpy that gives her no peace...her hair is falling out, she is going weaker, and she isn't sure she has the will to keep on living. Her stint as Famine is the catalyst that forces her to face what she is doing to herself, but it doesn't provide a magical, easy answer or a fairy tale ending. Instead, the ending rings true--Lisa isn't "cured," but at least she's on the path toward a healthier, happier life.
So, in short--thought-provoking (not just in its educational, and very valuable, look at eating disorders, but also viz famine around the world), entertaining, and yes, a little dark, but not so much so as to Depress. Read in what would have been a single sitting if I lived alone on a rock (which I mean as a compliment--I was utterly engrossed, and would have happily read it cover to cover had there been no intrusions of reality).