Taking Up Space is a new book by Alyson Gerber that centers around twelve year old Sarah. Sarah loves basketball, mystery novels, spending time with her friends, and Spicy Nacho Doritos… except when she starts slowing down and missing shots in basketball. Throughout her journey, Sarah learns the difference between health and dieting, and what listening to your body really means. She also begins to embrace her body’s changes and to have tough conversations about food with those closest to her.
The protagonist is a star on the basketball court. But as she gets older, Sarah starts moving slower and just doesn’t feel like her body is hers. She also notices that lately she’s been feeling HUNGRY. Her mom is weird about food and doesn’t keep much of anything to eat in the house. Meals are small and, while filled with vegetables, don’t consist of much to make them tasty. That is, when there are meals at all (sometimes Sarah’s mom forgets to make dinner). Sarah begins to think that she’s getting slower because she eats too much, so she makes her meals even smaller than before. She becomes obsessive over only eating ‘healthy’ foods.
Sarah’s strategy, though technically not an eating disorder, is definitely an example of disordered eating. The novel highlights this while also bringing the reader further into Sarah’s (very realistic) world as a middle school girl. She has a crush on the same guy her friend likes. She wants to bond with her mother but doesn’t know how (other than talking about the mystery novels they like to read together). Overall, these pieces begin to come together as the story unfolds. We, as readers, get to learn answers to the mysteries that the story introduces.
Immediately, I loved the novel’s focus on family. Though we quickly learn that Sarah’s parents aren’t perfect, they try their best. They try to be involved with their daughter’s life and raise her to be happy and healthy. But what I loved the most is that the novel portrays the parents as being wrong. They are just as human as Sarah is and have lessons to learn as well. I thought that was refreshing to read. Adults need help too, and reading about parental figures who are growing and evolving alongside their child was heartwarming and an important example for both adults and kids.
I also loved how therapy was introduced. Seeking professional mental health help is nothing to be ashamed of and much more common than one might think. This is portrayed in the novel through the protagonist, but also her friends, family, and teachers.
But the biggest message is about food. But it’s also not about food.
The biggest takeaway I learned is that problems with food can come from many sources. A person isn’t their disorder, but they can have a disorder. Sometimes this is because of an identity crisis (thinking your value lies most in how your body looks or performs), fear of change, or insecurities from outside sources. It’s a complicated issue and can be difficult for some people to view food in a healthy way. It’s better to seek help as soon as possible if you feel stressed (mentally or physically) because of food. But no matter what, change is possible.
I’ll be honest about something right now. I struggle with food. I’ve never had an eating disorder, but notions of body image and dieting were introduced to me at a young age. I’ve almost always wished I could be thinner, taller, and (insert positive adjective)-er. And I know I’m not alone.
Reading a book like this, though definitely not for my age demographic, helped reinforce ideas I already knew about. I loved learning about not caring about other people’s opinions, about how everybody matters, even if they aren’t the leader of a team. I loved the emphasis on working on oneself first and foremost.
Overall, I really loved this book. And I’m not just saying that as a reviewer for a particular demographic, but it was genuinely a fun read. I had a blast brainstorming plot lines with my friends and feeling nostalgic reading about the characters, and I think almost anyone else would.
So pick up a copy of Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber for your next summer read!
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