Over the last few years, I have so begun to appreciate the art of the celebrity memoir. I have consumed the memoirs of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kevin Hart, and Tiffany Haddish. What I have come to realize with this particular genre is if you can listen to the audio of these books and they are read by the author, you must choose that medium. It adds a whole other element to the enjoyment of the book.
I have loved Busy Philipps for a long time. Although, I wasn’t an early adopter of Freaks & Geeks, I was a HUGE fan of Dawson’s Creek, and when Busy Philipps burst onto the scene as Audrey–I loved her. She spiced up the show in just the right way. After Dawson’s ended, (and just a side note, Audrey should totally have been in the series finale–I can’t even…) I have to admit I lost track of Busy’s career, but was always interested when I saw her in US Weekly or People. (In case you didn’t know—I LOVE celebrity news and gossip. Can’t help it. Won’t apologize.)
Enter Instagram and my exposure to podcasts and my reacquaintance with one of my early favorites, you guessed it, Busy Philipps. To be completely honest, I didn’t know she was on Instagram until one of my favorite podcasters (I am looking at you Jamie Golden from The Popcast) gave a list of some of her favorite Instagram celebrity follows. Busy Philipps was one of those celebrities that Jamie crowned a “must follow.” And of course, I immediately followed. What I found when I went to Busy’s account was a down-to-earth mom, a wife, and a career person who was willing to chronicle the good, the bad, and the ugly in Instagram stories. So, even though, I am not a celebrity (I know, shocking!), I was able to relate as a mother. And a wife. And as a mother who is also trying to juggle a career and a side business that takes up a ton of time. And as a woman, who is just trying to find her own happiness.
When Busy (no, I am definitely not on a first name basis with Busy Philipps, but it feels weird to keep typing her first and last name. It also feel weird to say Ms. Philipps. So, Busy it is.) and Touchstone Books started promoting her memoir, I knew I had to read it.
Friends, I just finished it. I loved it. My favorite part about this memoir is that Busy is matter-of-fact and no-holds-barred. Seriously, she calls people out on their bullsh*t, and I really appreciate that. She also gives a really clear and authentic (as far as I am concerned) look at being a female in Hollywood. And, it ain’t pretty, friends. I think what Busy does so well is she shows the struggle, the fight, and the determination a female has to have to have a career in a business that notoriously marginalizes women. I feel like I knew that, but after reading Busy’s book–there is ABSOLUTELY no doubt. In addition, she just shares a lot about her life before fame, the struggles of being a teenager and navigating life in Scottsdale, AZ. It’s just good, readers. It’s just good.
The other thing about this book is that I received a hard copy of the book for Christmas (Thanks, Mom!), but I chose to listen to most of it because Busy reads it. I have to say when you can read (hear) a celebrity (or really any) memoir in the author’s own voice–take that opportunity. It just adds something to the narrative that merely reading the words cannot manifest.
So, if you can’t tell–I love Busy Philipps. I loved This Will Only Hurt a Little. But, please take my advice–listen to the audio. You won’t regret it.
Bottom Line: In the genre of celebrity memoir, this is a 5/5 for me. Funny, poignant at times, and completely honest–if you are a fan of this genre, you will want to read this one immediately.
At the opening of the novel, Rhen, the daughter of an Upper society mother and a Lower father, is fighting with her Da to find a cure for a crippling illness that is afflicting residents, including her mother, of Lower villages. She yearns to be seen by those in power, the ones who could make a difference for those who are suffering. She dreams of breaking out of the cage of her gender, which seems to have sentenced her to—at best—a life as a politician’s wife without choices who must hide her intelligence and scientific aptitude. She pines for Lute, a fisherman who wants only to care for his family and to make a simple living.
With her cousin Seleni, a member of Upper society, Rhen does her best to work toward each of these goals while respecting the bounds of her world. There is, however, a catalyst that causes her to make a leap, disguise herself as a boy, and enter the Labyrinth. To Best the Boys reminded me, at different times, of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner, but it establishes a new angle on that YA trend.
Weber’s world building here is just brilliant, juxtaposing the science that consumes Rhen with a fantasy world containing sirens, ghouls, and basilisks. I so appreciated Rhen’s coming of age as she struggles to define who she is in a society that gives women few choices. Weber balances Rhen’s personality with her cousin Seleni’s desires, and we see Seleni focusing on a quite different life for herself. The right to carve one’s path, regardless of what that path is, is a major theme in the novel.
The writing is strong, and I found myself marking quotations and beautiful phrasing throughout the book. The book’s strength doesn’t lie in surprises—I found this type of plot, including the quest within the labyrinth, Rhen’s self discovery, and the romantic relationships, to be fairly predictable. Instead, the quality of the details of world and of the character distinguish this book from others like it.
A strong standalone novel that is both rich and complete, Mary Weber’s To Best the Boys will satisfy readers seeking fantasy, action, and some excellent feminism. Great YA read!
"There must have been signs, but we were distracted by the roller coaster of the adventure. Paperwork, looking for a couch for the apartment, ties and shirts for Matthias."
"I used to eat. I used to like to eat, then I grew scared to eat, ceased to eat. Now my stomach hurts; I have been anorexic for so long that I have forgotten how to eat."
"I did not choose anorexia. I did not choose to starve. But every morning, over and over, I choose to fight it, again."
Thank you to Partner NetGalley for the awesome opportunity to read this book before publication. The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib is a powerful, gripping novel written by a commanding, courageous writer who addresses eating disorders and mental health head on. It is a story that needs to be told, and Zgheib tells it in a captivating way that forces the reader to take a good long look at the reality of that situation for everyone involved.
This story is the struggle of Anna Roux, an anorexic twenty-six year old married French woman living in America with her husband of three years, Matthias. As the story unfolds, Anna has been voluntarily placed in care at 17 Swann Street in DC, a residential facility for women with severe anorexia or bulimia. The novel is a powerful examination of everything leading up to that moment side by side with the experience of being in the residential facility itself, trying to find a way back from starvation and into life.
Most notable about this novel is the raw, direct way that Anna's narration depicts how unbelievably difficult it is for someone with anorexia nervosa to overcome it, even when that person desperately wants to be well. Throughout the novel, it is readily apparent that Anna's husband Matthias adores her and that her father and sister in France are still very close to her. However, Zgheib reveals how little the family intervenes, even when they see that Anna is in crisis. Even Matthias does not act:
"They had both become too comfortably settled in the magical kingdom of makebelieve. She
made believe that she was happy and all was fine, and he made believe it was true. It was less
painful than confrontation. Confrontation just led to fights. And so she ate nothing and they
both ate lies through three years of marriage, for peace, at the occasional cost of no more roller
coasters, no more sharing ice cream and French fries."
Matthias, who clearly loves Anna dearly and sees that she is suffering, cannot find a way to reach her. Anna's other family members also do not know what to say; what they do say only leads to brutal fights. And so they go on in silence until it is absolutely impossible to keep going. The pathway back is a long and painful one for all of them, and the end is uncertain.
By tracing the path of Anna's life, Zgheib shows how someone who is seemingly successful, happy, in love, and willing to change and grow spirals down into a husk of a person, unable to look at much less consume food. Zgheib demonstrates how some catastrophic childhood events coupled with dancing ballet, concern over body image, pressure to lose weight, and major life changes in early adulthood result in a profoundly severe situation for Anna as she finds herself starving to death.
I also loved the way that Zgheib incorporates facts and statistics into the narration; those biting details make real for the reader how destructive and deadly both anorexia and bulimia can be. Zgheib lays bare the cruel facts about how anorexia physically destroys the body. As Anna lives at 17 Swann Street, she arms herself with information about the disease that plagues her body. Throughout the novel, Anna notes what she learns, such as what she read in the patient manual: "Only 33% of women with anorexia nervosa maintain full recovery after nine months. Of those, approximately one-third will relapse after the nine-month mark." Some of the information is terribly discouraging, but Anna seems to take comfort in the knowing, even if knowing is painful.
Anna's time at the house is unbelievably difficult for her. The regimes are brutal for the girls there, and the methods can be severe, though the readers comes to understand how vital those methods are for the women. Feeding tubes become a fact of life for anyone who refuses to comply with the meal plans. The required therapy sessions threaten to tear Anna apart. It's clear that the people who work there have seen everything that Anna is experiencing before, and they can sometimes seem callous and even cruel from her perspective. Yet those caretakers are saving the lives of the women there, as Anna comes to understand.
I found Anna's tale captivating, and I believe that Zgheib speaks to many of the misconceptions and biases surrounding anorexia nervosa and bulimia, forcing the reader to take a clear-eyed look at the brutal reality of life for a person living with either of those conditions. Strikingly compelling and full of heartbreak but even fuller of hope, this is a phenomenal novel that will stay with the reader long after finishing.
A Note from Ashley, Jen, and Sara
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