The Stone Girl (Knopf Books for Young Readers) by Alyssa B Sheinmel, $16.99
Sethie looks at her world as though she’s looking through a microscopic, always questioning or hypothesizing and analyzing out how she might connect. Inside this world is her boyfriend Shaw, who doesn’t want to be called a boyfriend, but likes hooking up, drinking and smoking dope with her. He always brings a group of friends to the vacant apartment in Sethie’s building. And she always lets them in because Sethie wants to be liked – no Sethie wants to be loved by Shaw who is so different than she in the way he doesn’t seem to care. Sethie loves the way “Responsibility tolls down his back like water in the shower. She wishes she didn’t care what anyone thought.” But Sethie cares deeply. She is a girl who wants to be in the center, to look like the pretty girl who shows up with a group to party with Sethie and her boyfriend.
Other than Shaw, Sethie is pretty much alone. Her single mother works long hours and she hardly speaks to her father who lives across the country. School and trying to maintain grades high enough to get into Columbia keeps Sethie pretty busy. But she has time to keep a journal. It’s a journal that charts her perfection, or lack of it. “She began keeping the notebook six months ago. She writes everything down; even pieces of gum (five calories) and sips of coffee.”
Sethie is, of course, anorexic, and, with every ounce she loses, she strives to become the perfect anorexic.
Fortunately for Sethie, she’ll reconnect with the pretty girl whose name is Jane, a girl who wants a lot of the same things as Sethie, but a girl who doesn’t struggle in the same ways. Even as Sethie discovers that she can eat a bit if she makes herself throw up, the two girls will form an alliance. Jane introduces Sethie to a group of college guys. One in particular, the one that she can almost see herself with if she weren’t in love with Shaw, tells Sethie she needs a friend more than a boyfriend. When Sethie learns Shaw has been hooking up with other girls, she falls into despair. She begins to starve herself.
This was not an easy book to write says Alyssa Sheinmel who could have been Sethie as a teen. “I was scared that I would get lost in the dark places,” says Sheinmel. “But the character came to her and the story haunted her in a way that made Sheinmel realize there was a universal truth in telling another girl’s story. As she wrote, Sheinmel acknowledges that didn’t want to hurt this lovely, sweet character who insisted on hurting herself. In writing in third person, personal, Sheinmel believes she made the character’s truths, the truths of an every girl. And, as personal and heartwrenching as this story might feel, Sheimel succeeded in creating a character that every teen will likely relate to and want to help. This is an important story, one of eating disorders and depression, one that teens might need to read for themselves or for a friend.
Sheinmel says, “I tried to show that there is a lot more going wrong in Sethie’s world than her relationship with her body; that the deeper she falls into her disorder, the smaller her world becomes.” She has created a heartbreaking and real tragedy but it is one with hope if Sethie can only hear her friends’ warnings, if Sethie can only get out from under the microscopic lens of the world she has created.