The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib
Animal crackers and cocoa to drink,
That is the finest of suppers I think;
When I’m grown up and can have what I please
I think I shall always insist upon these.
Anna Roux is a professional dancer from Paris, France who moves to the Midwest when her husband scores a great job. She finds herself losing her personal and professional identity, culminating in a severe form of anorexia nervosa. Thus, she begrudgingly enters into treatment in a local facility, and befriends women with varying types of eating disorders.
This might be one of the most poetic, lyrical, beautiful books I’ve ever read. I don’t know why, but part of me expected a fictional “Girl, Interrupted“-type story, focusing on the pathology in mental illness, and not the resilience. We see Anna (and the other women) try so hard to go back to easier times, times when food wasn’t an enemy; when bodies existed for love and strength, not punishment and shame. We also see how these women ban together to help each other, pulling them out of family dysfunction and relapse.
The language, too, is breathtaking. Juxtaposed between past traumas and current treatments, we see reflections of Anna’s love of beauty and life, all of which brings her closer and closer to recovery. You can’t help rooting for her and her band of sisters, all of whom embrace each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Recovery is both a poetic exercise, and a team sport.
The Girls at 17 Swann Street was one of the most powerful, moving books I’ve ever read.
I read this book during the National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and it caused me to reflect on the absence of eating disorders in fiction (at least, in what I’ve read). I’ve read memoirs and clinical books, as social work practice in clinics that treat eating disorders has always been an interest of mine. I was glad to see this other side of exploration of the subject, and hope it encourages other writers to do the same.
If you feel you need help, please don’t hesitate to contact your insurance company for a referral to a therapist. You can also contact the National Eating Disorders Association here, call 1-800-931-2237, or text ‘NEDA’ to 741741.
Source: I requested the book from the publisher and received an advance reading copy. Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for the free copy!
- I found the author’s website, and I adore her shorter posts of prose. Definitely make sure to check this out.
- Interview with the author about her personal relationship to the story.