A loving mother. A perfect family. A shock wave that could shatter everything.
Freya Braithwaite knows she is lucky. Nineteen years of marriage to a man who still warms her soul and two beautiful teenage daughters to show for it: confident Charlotte and thoughtful Lexi. Her home is filled with love and laughter.
But when Lexi’s struggles with weight take control of her life, everything Freya once took for granted falls apart, leaving the whole family with a sense of helplessness that can only be confronted with understanding, unity and, above all, love.
The Food of Love has been a hard book for me to review. On the one hand, I found it very powerful, dealing as it does with the subjects of anorexia, bulimia, and mental illness in young women. On the other, I didn’t like Freya, the central character and – as I’ve said before – I find it hard to like a book where I don’t like the people I am reading about.
Because of this, then, I have waited almost a week since finishing it to put fingers to keyboard and try and put down my feelings on this book. With time to reflect, to step away from Freya a little, I have to say my thoughts are generally positive. It is a good book, one that deals with a difficult subject and one that – having also done some reading up on the subject in the past week – shines a light on what I think is a not-so-hidden epidemic amongst young women (and increasingly young men) in our society.
Given the subject, it probably isn’t a surprise if I say this is also a book that is not filled with a lot of uplifting moments. It is hard to read because of this. Lexi is really struggling with her illness and, as a result, so are her family – all of whom have a different take on just how bit the problem is and how they should resolve it. For Freya, who as I said is front and centre in this book, it is with love. She believes that with kindness and patience and understanding she can help Lexi. She is after all her mother. So she cooks, cajoles, cuddles and, sometimes, suffocates her daughter with affection.
Unfortunately, she is also Charlotte’s mother and her elder daughter ends up neglected because all Freya’s time and attention are on Lexi. Seeing how it impacts Charlotte as a family member was almost as hard as seeing what Lexi was doing to herself. Over the course of the year the story takes place, Charlotte is ignored – a lot – and misses out – a lot – during a pivotal part of her teenage life. It shows the wider impact of Lexi’s illness, as does the way Freya and her husband Lockie’s relationship falters too.
Part of the reason is the stress of having to be constantly vigilant – imagine having to watch everything someone puts into their mouth and then having to watch to make sure they don’t immediately go throw it up or do a million sit-ups to burn off the calories they’ve consumed. But there is also their disagreement on how to handle the situation. Lockie believes in medical intervention. He wants to let the professionals deal with things. Freya doesn’t.
Given this, they try both approaches and, eventually, one works but watching them try to find a solution, knowing that if they chose the wrong one their daughter might die, is hard. And in this I think the book did a really good job, highlighting how difficult a place families find themselves. No one wants their child institutionalised – but what if that is the only way to save them. And what if they are begging you, and hating you, for making that choice? It makes the story and emotional rollercoaster I did wish I could get off at times.
The book also raised some questions for me as I raise my own daughter, about the emphasis we put on food – about clearing plates (or not), about focusing on healthy foods, and seemingly throw away comments on how we and/or others look. It also revisits the ongoing debate about the images our children see of perfectly air brushed models and ideals they cannot live up to because they aren’t real. I have to say I did stop and think more than once.
It is important to remember, I think, that – as Freya says to Lexi “beauty…is nothing to do with a number or a dress size or shape” and I don’t think I, or probably most of us do that enough. It is this that I took from the book more than anything and why, on reflection, I have to say that – even though I didn’t always enjoy reading it because of the subject matter – it is a good book because it has left a mark on me. It is well written and seems to be well researched. I think it would have potentially been more powerful – and Freya possibly less frustrating – if it had been written in the first person but that is a personal preference. Will it be everyone’s cup of tea – no (and I can see that by some of the reviews on Goodreads) but is it worth reading? For me, it was and I would recommend it.
Note: I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Pages: 350 (kindle)
Published on: 1st December, 2016 (yes today!)
Other reviews of books by Amanda Prowse:
A Mother’s Story