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The Girls at 17 Swann Street: A Novel Hardcover – February 5, 2019
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*A BookMovement Group Read*
**A People Pick for Best New Books**
Yara Zgheib’s poetic and poignant debut novel is a haunting portrait of a young woman’s struggle with anorexia on an intimate journey to reclaim her life.
The chocolate went first, then the cheese, the fries, the ice cream. The bread was more difficult, but if she could just lose a little more weight, perhaps she would make the soloists’ list. Perhaps if she were lighter, danced better, tried harder, she would be good enough. Perhaps if she just ran for one more mile, lost just one more pound.
Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears – imperfection, failure, loneliness – she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.
Every bite causes anxiety. Every flavor induces guilt. And every step Anna takes toward recovery will require strength, endurance, and the support of the girls at 17 Swann Street.
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"A singular celebration of the lifesaving power of community and small gestures." - The New York Times Book Review
"This absorbing page-turner illuminates the raw courage of people who, struggling for their lives, somehow find the strength to support those around them." - People Magazine, February 2019 People Picks
"One of the most emotional and affecting books you'll read all year...it holds nothing back." - Hello Giggles
24 Fiction Books Coming Out In February That You Definitely Need To Read - Bustle
"...an impressive, deeply moving debut. " - Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"Zgheib's lyrical, dream-like style will resonate with fans of Wally Lamb's and Anne Tyler's novels and Augusten Burroughs' memoirs." -Booklist
"Moving . . a nuanced portrait of a woman struggling against herself." - Kirkus
“One of the best books I’ve read. Powerful and poignant...” - Jen Lancaster, New York Times bestselling author of I Regret Nothing
"Grabbed me from the first page. If you are interested in compelling characters and/or complex issues, this is a must read." - Lisa Gardner, New York Times Bestselling author
"Heartbreaking and beautiful . . . a brave book, stark in its realism, yet tempered by its lyrical prose." - Diane Chamberlain, New York Times bestselling author of The Dream Daughter
"Heart-wrenching and beautiful . . . a must read." - Erica Bauermeister, national bestselling author of The School of Essential Ingredients
"Written with spare, poetic grace, The Girls at 17 Swann Street is engaging, tragic and ultimately hopeful. It opened my eyes as well as my heart." - Susan Crandall, national bestselling author of The Myth of Perpetual Summer
About the Author
Yara is a reader, writer, traveler, yogi, lover of art, wine, black and white photographs, popcorn, and jazz. She was born in Lebanon and has pieces of her heart scattered over Paris, Beirut, London, Boston, and a few villages in Tuscany.
She is the author of The Girls at 17 Swann Street and No Land to Light On, and writes weekly on culture, art, travel, and philosophy on her blog: The non-Utilitarian. Her essays are prose, poetry, musings, on things neither practical nor useful, but true and beautiful. Essential.
Her writing has also appeared in The Huffington Post, The Four Seasons Magazine, HOLIDAY Magazine, The European, Womanscape, HOME Magazine, The Idea List, France Forward, Espresso Economics, A Woman’s Paris, The Socio/Log, and others.
- Publisher : St. Martin's Press (February 5, 2019)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1250202442
- ISBN-13 : 978-1250202444
- Item Weight : 1.3 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.24 x 1.31 x 9.63 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #896,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on May 17, 2021
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Again and again we're told not to judge a book by its cover, in which we're referring to people, but sometimes it's hard not to do this in a literal sense. The hardcover edition of this book showed the backs of several young women huddled over something that is just out of view of the camera. It suggests secrets...or group secrets. I figured it was a destructive boarding school or Mean Girls type of book and steered clear. Recently however, while listening to a podcast, this book was mentioned as a book about an eating disorder inpatient facility...and that did grab my attention!
I remember watching countless Lifetime Movies and After School Specials about eating disorders as a preteen and I always found them fascinating, because from the age of 8 I was already weight conscious. When I suffered with a bout of disordered eating in my late teens and early adulthood, I could understand, at least from a different perspective, a little more about anorexia. I feel incredibly fortunate to have recovered on my own from those eating patterns, which is more of what it was, as opposed to a disease. But every now and then I envy that youngster who seemed so disciplined, and first hand experiences (fact or fiction) help me to reflect on how good recovery tastes and to beware of falling back into that lifestlye.
Anna follows her husband from St. Louis from Paris. A ballet dancer recovering from an injury, she finds life in a new country incredibly lonely, as her husband works incredibly long hours. Three years later, she finds herself at 17 Swann Street, an inpatient eating disorder treatment facility in a private home and neighborhood. At 5'7" and weighing only 88 pounds, she and her husband, Matthias, know that this is their last option.
I found both Anna's narrative, as well as the lives of the different women being treated, very compelling. It was also a behind the scenes peek at a disease that is so private, and also about the way a team of doctors, psychiatrists and therapists work together to help these delicate "swans" spread their wings again against staggering statistics.
"Only 33% of women with anorexia nervosa maintain full recovery after nine months. Of those, approximately one-third will relapse after the nine-month mark...all eating disorders are chronic, and the risk of relapse remains. It is greatest within the four-to-nine-month period following discharge from inpatient care."
It was very realistic because as the author alludes to in the dedication, and then confirms in the afterword, this was her experience. She spent time at a facility like 17 Swann Street, and there she met many different kinds of women who for different reasons found themselves at the crossroad of life and death. I highly recommend this book. I feel like the author structured the book in such a way as to allow a breather from particularly difficult scenes, and she was so protective of her characters. I like that in an author.
Anna is 5’1. Anna eats only apples that she feels proud to cut up into small bites and a single serving of fat-free popcorn. Anna has significant physical damage to her body organs. Anna is 88 pounds. Anna is anorexic. As her beloved husband Matthias watches Anna self-destruct on her journey to starve herself, he makes a choice: in order to save Anna’s life, he enrolls her in residential treatment at 17 Swann Street. Anna begins treatment, alongside other women and begins to battle her anorexia. Wow. This book really hit home for me. I’ve seen the viral tweet going around that we’re in a pandemic, that we’re in social isolation and it’s okay to have a cookie. Meanwhile, I cannot bear to look at myself in a mirror or take a shower because all I see are the stretch marks from where my body has become too fat. I hate myself for not having the discipline that Anna does to starve myself. I am envious of her because she gets to starve herself and I am too weak to ignore the signs of hunger in my belly. Yes, I know how sick that is. I was previously seeking treatment for my eating disorder (Officially diagnosed with Other Specified Eating Disorder) but I quit because I wasn’t ready to heal. I look in the mirror and all I see is a fat, disgusting, hideous blob of a human being. I don’t have a hopeful or cheerful ending to this post. I know I’m sick. I know I’ve developed a thyroid condition, I have brittle nails and breaking hair, that I either eat too much in one sitting or I starve myself in others, that I can’t even take a picture of my face without cursing my double chin, that I do not allow myself to eat multiple food groups. I know all the signs, I see all the symptoms but that voice inside my head is louder than logic, it has me in it’s grip and it screams: “You are fat. You are disgusting. You are hideous. You are mine.”