Review: Believarexic by J.J. Johnson


In 1988, when she was fifteen, JJ Johnson was hospitalized for treatment of bulimarexia, a combination of bulimia and anorexia. During her ten-week stay, JJ had to eat everything on her tray, and took classes like "Assertiveness Training," "Depression Management," and "Body Image Workshop." She gained weight, but her path toward health was a constant struggle. In her heart, JJ knew-she knew-that she would be a happy, healthy adult one day.

But how? Instead of a clear path, there was a black abyss. She needed a guide, a mentor, someone who knew her inside and out.

So, one morning, just before weigh-in, JJ closed her eyes and made a deal with herself:

I promise myself that when I'm grown up, and happy, I will come back here, to these months. Healthy me will guide bulimarexic me through this.

This book is that promise, kept.

(cover image and summary lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Expected Publication date: October 1, 2015
Source/Format: Edelweiss/e-ARC
Pre-order: The Regulator Bookshop | Book Depository
My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts:
This story tells the battle of a weepy fifteen-year old, Jennifer Johnson, against an eating disorder monster with a difficult name: bulimarexia. Jennifer’s battle was fought hard, intense and long because this monster has the ability to cling on to her very core, influencing her thoughts and actions. It made Jennifer think that she’s nothing without it. That the monster is her identity. Our heroine’s first conflict was whether she should seek professional help or not. The monster mocked her, “You are not skinny enough for a hospital.” Jennifer wrestled with her thoughts and finally mustered the courage to tell her parents that she needs help. Jennifer’s quest inside the hospital commenced. There, she hoped she could eradicate the monster completely. But then the help she expected was alas, not handed to her on a silver platter or in this case, on a pop of a pill. She had to go through all sorts of excruciating institution-implemented things. And she was sometimes entangled in other in-patients’ drama. And she had to confront other aspects of her life (family dynamics, for instance) that she did not realize were somewhat related to her disease. It became really hard for Jennifer but there’s hope because in the hospital she has found some new allies like Dr. Prakash and Chuck, among others. Will Jennifer be able to successfully prevail over her monster? You have to read this book to find out. SERIOUSLY, READ IT.

A creepy monster who makes you think you are not thin enough. (Photo: Playbuzz)

I just want to say that while reading, I was eerily reminded of a 1999 movie, Girl Interrupted, starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. In the movie, the main character has to deal also with being institutionalized, cramped with her co-patients and hospital staff, thinking if anything of that would cure her. I love that movie and I also love Believarexic.

My favorite parts were Jennifer’s consultations with her designated psychiatrist, Dr. Prakash. Dr. Prakash is like Gandalf to Jennifer’s Frodo. Or perhaps like Yoda to Jennifer’s Anakin Skywalker, since Jennifer is a huge Star Wars fan. One of their sessions that stood out for me was when Jennifer metaphorically described happiness as balloons on strings where most people’s balloons were plump and bouncy and some people’s balloons were droopy. And then there was also this one particular conversation between them when Jennifer was complaining about a hospital staff:

“Sheryl is human and fallible,” Dr. Prakash says.“She is doing her best”

Jennifer takes a deep, shuddering breath.“Her best is pretty crappy.”

Dr. Prakash laughs. “You are one tough customer, Jennifer.Are you as hard on yourself as you are on other people?”
BAM, THAT LAST LINE! Dr. Prakash is implying that Jennifer’s obsession to become thin to the point of doing harm to herself is partly because she thinks that she is not perfect enough if she is not thin. That statement there by Dr. Prakash SLAPPED Jennifer (and ME) hard in the face. While reading, I realized that sometimes, like Jennifer, I am subconsciously a fault-finder not only to other people but more so and sadly to myself as well. This fault-finding behavior limits my full capacity because of being afraid to make mistakes. It is as if I am “making myself stand on the head of a pin” as what Dr. Prakash would say. Okay, I’ll stop blubbering about my cathartic moment right there. What I’m just trying to say is Jennifer’s story can also be relatable even to readers like me with no eating disorder. There are lots and lots of eye-opening conversations like this throughout the book. So again, read this book people.

If I'm the casting director of the book's hypothetical movie adaptation, I'm going to cast Mindy Kaling of The Mindy Project as Dr. Prakash.  (Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage)

Aside from Dr. Prakash I have yet to express my high regards towards Chuck, Jennifer’s secondary nurse (because her primary nurse is a bit of a b*tch). I will throw again a far-fetched Lord of the Rings reference here but I guess he is Aragorn to Jennifer’s Frodo. He is the kind of nurse who makes Jennifer less of a patient and more of a friend. He is cool, sweet and caring to Jennifer and has also a great taste for retro music! In the book, Chuck gave Jennifer this mixtape (it’s the 80’s people) loaded with dance songs on one side (because Jennifer loves to dance) and with when-you-need-a-friend slow songs on the other. In this website dedicated to all things Believarexic, the author has so kindly shared lots of bonus materials for the book including playlists of Chuck’s mixtape. After finishing the book, I listened to all the songs. It’s a good way to cool down my book hangover.

I'm going to cast Adam DeVine of Pitch Perfect and Modern Family as Nurse Chuck.  (Photo: Jason Meritt/Getty Images)

Lastly, Jennifer, the heroine herself, is a character you can empathize with. She is obviously flawed (her constant weeping annoyed me at times), but I admire her grit and determination to recover and overcome her monster.

And my girl Demi Lovato would be the perfect Jennifer Johnson. (Photo: Seventeen Magazine)
I have a minor issue in the shift of point of view from third POV to first POV on the latter parts of the story. I just could not clearly identify why there has to be a shift of POV. Also, I wish there was a wee bit more of interaction between Jennifer and Kelly. Kelly is Jennifer’s bestfriend in the outside world who did not even get to visit her in the hospital or send her a gift, not even a letter. I love how Jennifer’s relationship with her parents was thoroughly addressed in the book but Jennifer’s concern about her brother, Richard was not completely resolved.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to people who want to be inspired. Also, I may not be armed with facts and figures here but it does not take to be an expert to realize that having an eating disorder imposes serious health hazards. This might be that story which saves lives. Believarexic is a book with a lot of heart and has a relevant message. I cannot stress it enough: Go. Read THIS.

Diversity Watch:
#ownvoices on eating disorders
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