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Book review: <i>The Appetites Of Girls</i> by Pamela Moses

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the cover of the book

Fran, Opal, Ruth, and Setsu all have one thing in common – they share the same rooms at Brown University. But scratch the surface and each of their vastly different stories gives them unlikely common ground. Can these girls succeed against the odds of growing up damaged?

The story

Ruth comes from a large Jewish family, with a mother who wants Ruth to have the education and opportunities she never had. Ruth's mother has very specific ideas about success, and some of Ruth's desires are less than desirable. One of Mama's pet peeves is girls who don't eat enough, and Ruth develops a shameful love-hate relationship when it comes to the rich Jewish food she consumes out of comfort.

Opal and her mother never stay in one place very long. Opal's mother thinks that routine is death, and travels the world with her young daughter in tow. Opal realises that her mother has a particular power over men – she's very beautiful – and Opal wants to learn to have men pay attention to her, as well. However, Opal soon realises that relinquishing one's self to a man is not ideal. Opal takes these lessons to heart, and they begin to affect every aspect of her life.

Fran's family are wealthy, but Fran grows up with an obsessive desire for food which her unhappy mother tries desperately to quell. Once Fran realises that money certainly isn't buying her mother happiness, and is no compensation for the unhappiness in her parent's marriage, her compulsive eating becomes even more difficult to control. Fran knows what she wants, but can she get the much needed balance in her life for good?

Setsu's adopted family think her gift for violin is prodigious, and they so enjoy having a musician in the family that they adopt her an older brother, who is also a gifted violinist. Setsu has always been quiet, but having a new brother makes her even quieter, and she realises to maintain harmony in the house she will have to make sacrifices. Setsu's journey to adulthood means she needs to learn how to stand up for herself, but this is a difficult task for someone as quiet as Setsu.

These four girls with different pasts find common ground, but can their blossoming friendship survive their differences, and can they break down each of the walls the girls has built around themselves?

The style

I enjoyed this book overall. I enjoyed the narrative particularly – each of the girls had three sections, dividing the story into twelve main parts. The first four sections set each of the girls at various points in their childhood, the middle four sections when each of the girls met in college, and the last four sections described each of the girls' epiphanies – their coming into adulthood and overcoming their individual adversities. While I felt the endings could have been handled differently – each of the characters ended up getting it together and had a “happily ever after” (by their own definition) by the time they were thirty, which seems unrealistic – the girls' early stories were all fantastic, and I enjoyed each of their relationships with food, self esteem, and their bodies. I felt like there were aspects of each of the girls I could relate to, and some of the anecdotes they relayed about growing up were so wrenchingly awkward that I had to put the book down, and then of course curiosity got the better of me so I went back to it. Some of the telling was a bit melodramatic, but that was very much in keeping with the narrative voices of each of the girls.

I read The Appetites Of Girls avidly, it was hard to put down. I was invested in each of the characters, and I think the thing I liked most about the college narrative section was the way each of the characters viewed the others. We as the reader are privy to the most intimate thoughts of each of the characters, but this narrative masterfully exhibited the way each of the girls viewed the others coloured by her own personal experience and interpretations, and how this affected their ongoing relationships with each other. Also, each narrative would pick up roughly where the other left off, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps in each girl's story.

As I mentioned above, the only place this story really fell down was the ending. I'm not a happily-every-after reader, and the ending suggested it was a proper ending of these characters, as opposed to peoples' lives, which would continue regardless of our readership. That is just my personal preference, though, and I suppose this ending may well satisfy some.

Who is this book for?

This is certainly a story more geared for women than men, although I feel the trials and tribulations of the characters are very much universal. I'll compare it in general subject matter to The Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, and similar stories. And if you wanted to buy this for the teenaged girl in your life so she knows other people have gone through what she probably thinks is the end of the world, well you'd probably be doing her a favour (the worst that will happen is she'll assume she'll be married by thirty, but whatever).

If you like this book, you would also like...

The Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, as mentioned above, also Little Alters Everywhere, also by Wells.


In short


Title: The Appetites Of Girls
Author: Pamela Moses
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0425275399
Year published: 2015
Genre(s): Fiction
Review Type: