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Walking a Thin Line

by Sylvia McNicoll

Anorexia is a very real concern for many Canadian teenage girls, and for those who care about them, and Sylvia McNicoll’s treatment of the subject in her newest novel is thoughtful and moving, without ever being preachy. McNicoll avoids didacticism partly by telling the story in the voice of 13-year-old Lauren, one of the two girls in the novel who become obsessed with weight loss. Lauren has two friends: her best friend, Stephanie, is a cheerful, naturally skinny basketball player who loves horror movies and is irritated when Lauren critiques the fat content of her lunch. Andrea, however, is a somewhat plump overachiever who loves horses but has no friends other than Lauren, and is mocked by some of the other seventh-graders for her unfashionable stockiness. A perfectionist with great will power, Andrea decides to change herself: “I’ll show them. I’ll lose so much weight. I will be perfect.” She persuades the “big-boned” Lauren to join her in dieting and exercising at the Select Woman fitness club. While Lauren’s misadventures with EZ-Slim earrings and a weight-loss club remain comical, Andrea’s determination to get rid of her despised flesh moves toward tragedy. McNicoll avoids any simplistic or pat conclusions: anorexia is seen as a frightening and frustrating illness, as Lauren develops from complicity, to denial, to compassion and understanding.

Throughout Walking a Thin Line, McNicoll skillfully indicates the many societal pressures that urge women, and men also, to see only thin bodies as attractive. Lauren responds to TV ads (purchasing her EZ-Slim earrings from The Shopping Channel), billboard ads for jeans that show young lovers clasping each other’s slender waists, snide comments from schoolmates, and pressure from promoters at the fitness club and the weight-loss group. While Andrea succumbs, Lauren is, however, able eventually to resist. The novel is structured around three oral classroom presentations Lauren gives: in the second, she proudly presents her own success controlling her weight, but in the last one she turns from the easy mockery of obesity she had used in the previous talk to a painful, heart-felt analysis of the consequences of such mockery. The messages about body image and self-acceptance that Lauren presents to her schoolmates have been made real for the reader by the experiences the girls undergo in the course of the novel. Their seriousness is, however, balanced by the humour of much of the book, which, though clearly a “problem novel” about anorexia, is also an absorbing and enjoyable story.


Reviewer: Gwyneth Evans

Publisher: Scholastic


Price: $4.99

Page Count: 220 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-590-12379-3

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: 1997-11


Age Range: ages 11–14