I don’t normally read books for teens, but the blurb for “Hunger” and a review made me buy this excellent as part of Pub Hub’s Buy Diverse Books offer in June. The mix of apocalypse and eating disorder had me hooked, and could prove useful – my character Twyla Locke, in “Fates Maelstrom”, has an illness that could be an eating disorder, or not.
“Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world.”
Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home: her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power — and the courage to battle her own inner demons?
“Hunger” not only satisfied me as a reader, but also tackled the issue of eating disorders in a clever yet informative way. This was much more than a fantasy read, and yet it was never preachy. Although I have known people that were anorexic, this took me into the mind-set of a girl battling with a too-common teenage problem, with an added touch of allegory that worked brilliantly.
From the opening moments when Lisa had to deal with her appropriate appointment as Famine, her thought processes were confused as she tried to absorb the new role into her troubled social life. The tense family situation and her fragile friendships seemed realistic, with her struggles over food ever present and understandable, given the pressures to fit the norm.
But the illness of anorexia nervosa is part of Lisa’s personality and life, never a tedious lecture from the author. Jackie Morse Kessler has experienced eating disorders first hand, so that authenticity blends well with the unfolding tale. The ‘Thin Voice’ that drives Lisa’s insecurity becomes not just Lisa’s alter-ego but also a central antagonist.
The writing is a strong mix of teenage distractions, psychological tribulations and fantastical challenges. Some readers might wonder why Lisa’s actions as Famine, especially her final decision, are somewhat illogical at times. She’s supposed to be Famine, so why is she doing that…? Because this is her take on Famine, perhaps.
Throughout the novel, my mind kept flipping between ‘this is a real fantasy’ and ‘this is in her confused mind’. How much is the calling to be one of the Four Horseman in her head? Perhaps that is why Death appears in the form of Kurt Cobain and plays Nirvana numbers on his guitar – that’s her take on Death.
After this engrossing opening novel, I’m intrigued to read the second Riders of the Apocalypse book, “Rage”, to see how Jackie Morse Kessler handles the next appointee and her self-mutilation.
SPOILER WARNING: It’s only when Lisa faces her greatest nemesis, a fellow Horseman, that she can finally confront the ‘Thin voice’ and her illness. Maybe that is what Lisa gain from her appointment as Famine.