Jackie Morse Kessler – Hunger

“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 sub-urbs 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 the 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 awesome new power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power – and the courage to fight her own inner demons?

Hunger is a wonderful book, that tackles the difficult subject of eating disorders head on. And it manages to do so without coming off as preachy. Instead it’s funny, witty, wry and strangely realistic, despite its fantastic elements. It’s clear that the author knows what she is talking about. I love that Famine is a way for Lisa to realize the value of life and to create a desire to free herself of the Thin voice. But it’s even more fantastic that Ms Kessler stressed that there isn’t a magical solution, that you need treatment to get healthy. Too often both in books and on television, once people decide to deal with their problems they just disappear, without the audience being shown how much hard work that takes. I think she also showed how much eating disorders are about being in control instead of about being thin. Eating disorders in any shape are complex problems and never as easily defined as a desire to be thin.

The other side of this story is the hilarious, and at the same time tragic, ride Lisa goes on, both literally and figuratively, while exploring what it means to be Famine. Lisa’s voice is humorous and snarky, and I completely fell in love with her as a character. I found the portrayal of her as she isolates herself from her loved ones and focuses on the one ‘friend’ who shares her problem, albeit in a different form, to be very compelling and convincing. But she also manages to break out of her double cocoon of the ‘standard’ teenage myopia and her anorexia to really see the suffering hunger causes around the world and in the same vein the problems gluttony causes. She uses these insights to use her power to help instead of harm, at the same time helping herself as well.

The Four Horsemen were brilliant. They and Midnight, Lisa’s steed, stole every scene they were in. I loved that Pestilence was the philanthropist, Death the philosopher, War the politician and Famine/Lisa the cynic. These designations are both a clue as to their powers and a comment on their characters. Although it must be added, that, Death aside, we see disappointingly little of them and as a result their characters aren’t that fleshed out. But still, Death was freaking Kurt Cobain! How cool is that! As a former little grunge girl, I completely geeked out over that.

The other supporting characters, with the exception of Tammy, are rather flat as well. They’re there, they have a function, but their impact was felt less than that of Tammy, Lisa’s bulimic friend. This may have been a conscious choice by the author, as Lisa doesn’t connect with any of them in a positive way either, except for her rather toxic friendship with Tammy. Add to that the slim page count of this book, it stands at 180 pages, which means that there is not a lot of room to flesh every one out as I might have liked.

Whatever problems I may have had with Hunger, I really liked the book. I’m glad there will be more in this series, as I’m very curious to find out more about the various other Horsemen and their mythology. The second book in the series, Rage, will be out in April.

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