Steven Levenkron,
The Best Little Girl in the World
(Grand Central, 1989)

After more than 30 years in print, The Best Little Girl in the World by author and psychotherapist Steven Levenkron remains one of the best books providing insight into the inner turmoil of the anorexic. There are many reasons why an eating disorder takes root, and while it is not possible to fit every case into a cookie-cutter mold, this fictional account of what could be considered a classic case of anorexia is very realistic in the way it illuminates the control issues, loathing and fear of intimacy and dependence that are most often the hallmarks of this debilitating disorder.

This is not a book of statistics and percentages. Levenkron, who is a specialist and leading expert in the field of eating disorders, draws upon years of experience to bring us the story of Francesca, a shy, self-conscious girl of 15 who has a depreciating lack of self-acceptance. Her family dynamic is such that she feels she doesn't belong in the same way as her siblings, and this carries over into the rest of her life. She recreates herself as "Kessa," a controlled, aloof girl she sees as perfect. Kessa doesn't need anyone. Kessa doesn't even need to eat. Kessa is in command of herself and her world.

The changes in Kessa quickly become apparent to her bewildered parents. She rapidly loses weight and becomes distant and indifferent. The once straight-A student casually drops her failing report card on the kitchen table without concern. She is apathetic when she isn't chosen for the ballet school's summer session. Francesca has become detached from everything that was once important to her. Then, as her world spins out of control, Kessa meets the doctor that will finally set her on the road to recovery. Healing does not come easily or quickly, but it does begin with the help and guidance of her new doctor.

A word to the wise: This book is absolutely NOT appropriate to give to an anorexic in the hope of providing her with some insight into her disorder. Most do not see that anything is wrong with their weight loss in the first place. As a former anorexic, I can guarantee she would incorporate Kessa's detailed tricks and methods for weight loss into her own. This book is more suitable for concerned family members and friends as an insightful look into the perspective of a classic anorexic.

book review by
Lee Lukaszewicz

6 November 2010

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