Book Review – Perfect by Natasha Friend

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: September 16th, 2004
Publisher: Milkweed Editions

You are never alone in anything, no matter how it feels. Everyone must face their own tragedy, and deal with their own disorder. Some are just better at seeming composed.

I could read this book about a thousand times and find scarce to dislike. I believe this is one of the absolute best young adult books, especially for girls. Friend, I’ve noticed, takes care to challenge the conventional concept of perfection, and if it’s even necessary. Which it isn’t, spoiler alert. Coming from a staunch perfectionist who’s struggled with abandoning society’s expectations, you know I’m serious about that. At the end of the day, if the goal you’ve reached is the desire of someone who isn’t you, and came at the cost of important facets of your personality, it wasn’t worth it, and will be replaced with a new one to covet tomorrow.

Perfect is about the cycle of unhappiness that spawns eating disorders, though there are a lot of small and traumatic events that usually factor into it. Friend writes in a way that’s easy to approach and never preachy or contrived, letting you come to your own conclusion about Isabelle’s path.
The death of her father led into a depression, and the only influence outside of that is a girl she befriends at school, who despite all appearances as “the perfect girl”, has an extremely damaged self-image and forces herself to throw up so often that she starts bleeding from the mouth. Isabelle sees in her a mirror of her own bulimia, and their relationship becomes a paradox of enabling each other’s disorder and offering a genuine bond based around it.

This book was published around the time when eating disorders were at their peak trendiness in the early 2000s, unfortunately, and there were a lot of similar works like Wintergirls and Thin coming out to combat the devastation of the “fad”. But like those, I don’t think it will ever become irrelevant. Quite to the contrary. I imagine the beat this story adheres to would’ve been quite different if it had been written in the age of social media, too. Not in its message, but in the amount there would have been to say. Perfect hit a stroke of good luck that it wasn’t, perhaps.

It’d be easy to interpret this story as a dark one, but it doesn’t have that oppressive, constant atmosphere of decay that like, similar young adult books about serious issues have. Perfect is sensitive and a realistic series of ups and downs while Isabelle is struggling with her eating disorder.
I’ve cherished this book for years. Perfect has really done its work in disrupting that cycle for me of obsessing over something that won’t change the truth of myself, and I recommend it. Even if a mental illness or eating disorder is not something you’ve ever struggled with, Perfect is a good starting point to understanding where their roots begin to bud and what feeds them to the point where they become dangerous.

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