Middle school is hard enough without being the daughter of two celebrities. Eighth grader Hannah's parents are actors, and her aunt creates award-winning documentaries. The expectations seem pretty high in a family of "perfect" people. Hannah feels constant pressure to be "perfect," too. Though her mom says, "pretty is as pretty does," she still feels an underlying push to be physically beautiful. When her mom dies, though, Hannah turns to bulimiaher secret remedyfor support. Her eating disorder spirals out of control until her aunt, who previously suffered with anorexia, takes her to Ghana while working on a new movie. In Ghana, Hannah gains a more global perspective, discovering that ideals of beauty can be very different from one person and place to the next. Hannah's journey is ultimately about about finding your authentic self even in the most difficult circumstances, and finding people who will support you for that self. Cliche as it may be, Katrina Kittle emphasizes that beauty is what is on the inside. Kittle's Reasons to Be Happy
veers to the lower end of YA, bordering on MG, as it can feel a bit simplistic at times. However, it does not shy away from the harsh realities of binging and purging, painting a graphic portrait of bulimia for young readers who are likely struggling with their own body image.
Hannah Anne Carlisle keeps a list of the things that make her happy. Or, at least, she used to. Hannah,
living in L.A. with her movie star parents, stops adding to her happy list when her mom's battles with
cancer and constant pressure from her classmates start to overwhelm her. In an attempt to cope, Hannah
turns to bulimia. Although her physical sickness brings to light the severity of her situation, the loss of her
happiness and self-worth are at the root of her problems. Kittle, a former middle-grade teacher who
witnessed the struggles that mercilessly bombard young girls, pulls the reader through the numbing abyss
of an eating disorder and back along the slow, empowering journey to overcome it. Hannah's believability
as a character as well as the realistic, painful depiction of bulimia make this a standout.
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Hannah Carlisle is no typical eighth grader. Her parents are both Hollywood actors, and measuring up to their success presents many challenges to a young teen. When Hannah is enrolled in a posh private school, her world begins to change. Artistically inclined, Hannah creates miniature cities out of found and collected objects, creating "a world where everything is okay, where everything is the way it should be." Hannah also creates a world within her purple "Reasons to Be Happy
" notebook. Her lists are visual, tactile, and sensory representations of teenage longing and yearning; they are metaphors for all that she desires in life. Hannah responds to the pressure cooker within her school's social circle of shallow, body-imageobsessed students by beginning to purge. This, her "Secret Remedy," makes her feel better and more alive just as her mother begins to fade away and succumbs to cancer. As her mother's death nears, purging becomes full blown bulimia. The descriptions of this eating disorder are accurate and compelling. Hording, shoplifting, and other behaviors escalate, spinning out of control. After her mother's death, Hannah's aunt, Izzy, a documentary filmmaker, takes her to Ghana, where her interaction with cultural differences, poverty, and a crash course in reality give her the perspective she needs to move on in her life. She returns from her rite of passage to a healthier and loving life in California.
We all have our reasons to be happy, things that make us smile or brighten our days, but Hannah Carlisle has a notebook full of them. A notebook that is supposed to help her when times get rough. Only her reasons aren't enough. Her pain is deep, her loss monumental, her emotions raw. Hannah Carlisle will wander into the hearts of readers, burrow herself there, and force us to confront every unsettling, upsetting, and beautiful thing about this eighth grader and her journey to find herself again.
Katrina Kittle implicitly understands the young adult mind. Hannah is an insecure eight grader who questions everything about herself. She doesn't want to be scared, she doesn't want to be bulimic, but she doesn't know how to change it. Kittle's take on bulimia, the way she calls it a disgusting monster and handles Hannah's situation more than realistically, is the perfect way to express such a prevalent issue with teens, with anyone.
Hannah is superbly fleshed out, with a family, hopes, dreams, and upsets. Each of her 'reasons to be happy' help to see just a little more into the girl that she was and the girl that she's trying to find again. Not only can any young girl relate to Hannah, but anyone will like her, care about her, and hope with every fiber of their being that she's strong enough, that she has the right support system, to get through everything.
Reasons To Be Happy isn't lighthearted and bubbly. It isn't a glimpse into the picture perfect life of a child born of two actors. It's a devastating portrayal of a delightful girl who loses herself, but is strong enough and stubborn enough to not stay lost. It's heartbreaking and will affect its middle grade audience, but also any person who has ever felt lost, alone, or confused.
My most favorite thing about the book isn't even Hannah's reasons though they are superb or her family who I couldn't help but love it's that her struggle is just that, a struggle. One doesn't just get rid of an eating disorder, just as one doesn't simply kick a bad habit or get over an addiction. You have to fight for it. And Katrina Kittle made me feel like I fought for it with Hannah. We fought, we cried, we hurt, but we're still here. And that's what matters most.
This book just encouraged me to make a list of my own. Not because I need to, but because I want to know and appreciate all the things I have that makes me happy and grateful to just be here, alive and well.
Why do people strive to be perfect? It's part of human nature to want what they can't get, and Hannah is like that. All she wanted was to be a part of something, and she ended up facing a terrible nightmare instead. Being the only child of beautiful celebrities pressures Hannah more than anything. But she's neither perfect nor beautiful, still everyone expects her to be someone, and that want, combined with grief, makes Hannah's life spinning out of control. She became bulimic, desperate to lose weight, to feel good, to feel beautiful. She needs help, her father needs help, but is Hannah strong enough to get back on her feet again?
It pains me to read about Hannah. She was supposed to be a cheerful 8th grader, bright and full of dreams. She even had this little notebook where she lists all the reasons she has to be happy, and yet that wasn't enough to get her through the moment her mother died. I wanted to say that there is no one to be blamed but Hannah herself, but her father became alcoholic instead of supporting her through a rough time, and if only Hannah feels the least bit confident about herself then she wouldn't have entered such a toxic friendship with her so called friends in school. Being bulimic is the only way for her to cope with all the emotional stress she was going through.
With her mother gone, her Aunt Izzy became the shining light in her life. Izzy was anorexic and she almost killed herself with it. More than anyone, Izzy knows what it feels like for Hannah. Hannah stayed with Izzy in Ghana and the experience changed her, and with all the things she lacked, she slowly realized how much she should be thankful and appreciate what she has, even herself, instead of destroying it. It was a wonder how different you see yourself through other people's eyes. Jasper liked Hannah for who she is, even at her worst moments, and Modesta, Philomel and the rest of Tafi Atome loved her for being the creative, passionate American teenager that she is. Nothing fake, nothing forced, just plain appreciation and love coming from them, and that's what made Hannah heal. I guess the saying "all you need is love" is true. Love and understanding are two powerful things that can create miracles and change lives. And in Hannah's case, loving herself was the key. She was bent on trying to create a "perfect" Hannah that she almost lost the real her.
Hannah's struggles felt like my own, and I didn't need to experience it in order to feel the emotions laced in every word Katrina writes. It's a story about a struggle to overcome a lot of things. Fear, bulimia, a future without her mother and a whole lot of things that aren't entirely happy, but I had to read slowly to savor the story word for word. Reasons to Be Happy
stirred up a lot of emotions inside of me. I was a bit teary eyed in the end.
Reading Reasons To Be Happy is a reason to be happy in itself. Katrina Kittle's book shows a teenage girl's struggle against self-image, bulimia, but more importantly, it celebrates life and all the little things that makes us happy. A valuable lesson this book teaches: Learn to love yourself. Powerful, emotional, with characters that will touch us and endear them to us in a lot of ways, Reasons To Be Happy is worth a read.
Stunning: Worthy of a Goddess' Praise!
As I began to read this book, it quickly became apparent that it was not a light, fluffy read. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but it definitely surpassed my expectation of a cute YA book. Hannah is the daughter of two gorgeous movie star parents. She lives in Los Angeles and is about to begin eighth grade after the summer. But then things change. She is transferred to a private school, her mother gets cancer and suddenly Hannah loses herself. She is no longer the bold and fun girl who "jumps in with both feet". Now she sees herself as ugly and fat, afraid of speaking up, especially when she gets in with a group of nasty, fashionista girls.
In essence, Reasons to Be Happy
is about a young girl who copes with her stress by becoming bulimic. She binges on food and then throws it all up. I knew a few things about eating disorders before reading this book, but Kittle does an amazing job of bringing the horrors of bulimia to life through the story of Hannah. It was an eye-opener for me. It was also hard to read at times because I really felt for Hannah and all the new hard changes in her life she had to adapt to. I empathized and understood her pain and her need to find a way to cope.
Kittle does not mince words or skim the surface of bulimia. She paints a realistic portrait. It's clear the author wants to warn young girls from the dangers of eating disorders. Through Hannah's journey, which also takes her to Ghana, Africa, we see her struggle to let go of this addiction and we rejoice with her even in the smallest of successes. Hannah also keeps a list of reasons to be happy, which gives the reader insight into her thoughts. It changes as she changes. And it's a beautiful list, reminding us that there are many reasons to be happy, from the feel of "cat purr vibrating through your skin" to "dancing like an idiot when no one is watching."
As a parent, I appreciated reading this book for its insightful topic and its honest portrayal of a teen in crisis. It was well-written and had me anxiously turning the pages as my heart ached for Hannah, but also shared in her triumph of winning a hard battle and finding herself again.
I was really intrigued as to what the author had to say about the topic of her book. So I asked her a few questions and she was gracious and kind enough to answer them. Here is a short interview with Katrina Kittle:
Ok, the colorful cover fooled me into thinking this was going to be a light read. I was expecting a cute story about what it means for a young teen girl to be happy. I thought that this would be a quick read where I would go about my day after reading it. I got a 1/4 of the way in the book and then WHAM! I knew then that this was not going to be an easy story to read.
Hannah is the daughter of two Hollywood actors and the niece of a famous documentary filmmaker. One would think that she would have the perfect life but she's horribly dissatisfied with it. First off, her mother has caner. Then she goes to a new school and is immediately schooled by the popular crowd of what is in and what isn't. According to them, most of what Hannah does/wants to do is not in. Desperate to fit in, Hannah stops doing many things that she likes and starts doing things that begin to harm her.
This is one of the very few books I've that portray bulimia so realistically. Other books I've read kind of skim over the difficult parts. Kittle really takes us into the mind of a bulimic. We witness the entire process of Hannah's addiction with it. We see her first time trying it and the power she feels from doing it to how it becomes her entire life to where she almost gorges herself to death. It's a completely eye opening experience that is very painful to read. One scene that really stood out to me is when Hannah tells her aunt she would rather be anorexic because it's not as disgusting as bulimia. Her aunt then shows her how disgusting anorexia can be as well. Something else I really applauded was that Kittle shows that this is a struggle that Hannah will have to face the rest of her life. Relapses can happen and it's not just something that she can switch off. A lot of other books tend to make it end in a snap but that is clearly not the case.
In addition to Hannah's struggles at school and her bulimia, there is also a section where she goes to Africa with her aunt. This trip transforms her and makes her see more about her life and how to find happiness. It's done very well and it helps the reader and Hannah both see more about life outside of our bubble.
Overall, I really loved this book. As I said, I went into it expecting one thing and came out completely different. Even though the main character is a young teen, I feel readers of all ages (well teen and above) will benefit from reading this novel. This is Kittle's first YA book but I hope it is not her last. There needs to be more contemporary YA books like this. They will make lasting impact on their readers. HIGHLY recommended.
My Rating: 4 hearts
Thoughts on the Novel: Katrina Kittle's Reasons to Be Happy
is a book that explores the overarching theme of beauty. Juxtaposing Hannah's North American life with the time she spends in Ghana, Kittle allows Hannah to realize that inner beauty and learning to accept oneself are much more important than outer beauty; and in the process, enables Hannah to see the little joys in life once again.
Hannah is a girl that anyone can relate to, especially tweens the intended target of Reasons to Be Happy
. Feeling like you don't belong, wanting to be prettier and trying to please your parents are all things most people experience growing up, and Reasons to Be Happy
definitely made me remember those times. To make herself better and regain some control over her life, Hannah however resorts to binging and purging.
Kittle's portrayal of eating disorders is very realistic and her vivid description of Hannah gorging on food frequently stolen and then trying to vomit it up sometimes made me nauseous. It's often harder for people to notice bulimia because unlike anorexics, bulimics usually tend to be normal in weight or be overweight. Thus, nobody notices that Hannah seems to have a problem even as she desperately wants somebody to help stop her.
A novel that will resonate with readers and leave them thinking about their own reasons to be happy, Reasons to Be Happy
was released by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky on October 1, 2011.
Comments About the Cover: The cover doesn't really show that the book is about bulimia, and it's kind of got a cheerful vibe as opposed to the book which has a more serious tone.
So many of us never take the time to sit back, relax, and think of all the reasons to be happy. If we did, we'd realize there's so much to be happy for. That's why I really enjoyed reading REASONS TO BE HAPPY by Katrina Kittle.
With a glance at the cover, you'd think this is your girly-girl upbeat love story (bubbly letters, pink and blue, doodle stars, etc...), but that's not the case--and in a definitely good way! Instead, we dive into the life of Hannah, an eighth grader who is moving to a new school and whose parents just happen to be A-list celebrities. But that's not all. Hannah's mom is sick, Hannah doesn't quite fit in at the new school, and she's stuck hanging out with the B-Squad, a group of girls who are fake and not like Hannah at all. As a result, Hannah finds herself transforming into somebody she doesn't even know. The old Hannah used to keep a notebook full of reasons to be happy, but the girl who used to love running and making art now faces the harsh reality of dealing with change and death. So what does she turn to--bulimia.
Kittle dives into this complex subject and how self-esteem can affect a young teen. What I love about this story is that Hannah is a strong girl and we witness an amazing transformation of how she finds herself again--much by traveling to Africa with her Aunt who is a documentary filmmaker documenting the plight of the country's orphans. Along the way, Hannah's journey reminds us all of what we have to be grateful for and as Hannah says herself, the most important one is knowing who you are.