First and foremost, I just want to say how pretty Dancing with Ana looked when it arrived. I don't know if the author personally sends out the copies but it was packaged really nicely (had its own plastic wallet). And the letter was printed on that posh paper (there's probably a name for it but I don't know it).
Dancing with Ana is written by Nicole Barker and if you don't know what it's about, here is the blurb:
Beth is a lucky girl... She comes from a loving family. She has three best friends. She loves to surf and lives five minutes from the beach. She also recently discovered that the boy she's grown up with has the most amazing green eyes... Beth has every reason to smile. Every reason to be happy. Every reason to feel blessed.
Then why is she sticking her fingers down her throat?
There is no girl called Ana in this story and I didn't really expect there to be. When I read the title I thought of anorexia nervosa. Some people with eating disorders shorten or, in my opinion, humanise their demons by giving them a name. Ana can be short for anorexia nervosa whilst Mia can be short for bulimia nervosa. Upon reading the blurb, I thought this book would be much darker than it actually is. It definitely touches upon anorexia nervosa but I felt that there was something it lacked. I can't put my finger on it though. By all rights it was a good read. I think that it may also have something to do with the length of the book. Granted, it was 170 pages but the font was relatively large compared to most books I've read.
I liked the characters in this book. Jeremy, Beth's best friend (or is he something more?), cares about Beth. He notices the change in her and tries to stop her on her ultimately destructive path. As do Beth's friend's, Jenny, Melanie and Rachel. They all agreed to diet but stop when they've reached their target weight, which is in the healthy range. Beth doesn't. I particularly liked Rachel. She had her own problems going on in the story but still found the courage to fight back.
I didn't really understand Beth's path in the story but then again, I don't think you really can unless you've been down that path yourself. It started off as a diet and then spiralled out of control. She was determined to exercise self-control to the point where I don't think she even knew why she was doing it anymore. One of the reasons that is hinted at is the pain from when her father left. But it was many years ago and it is only mentioned a few times and then largely at the end of the book. I think this is the something I didn't like about the book. I didn't think it was believable that she would suddenly do it because she was dealing with her father's abandonment years after it had happened. I'm not saying it couldn't happen, I'm just saying I didn't find it believable.
The plot itself is interesting. I wanted to know what what would happen to Beth. Would she be able to overcome her obsession with food? Would her friends notice how much the "diet" meant to her? There's a scene where Beth collapses because her body just can't take it. But a more poignant scene is the first time Beth gives in to eating when she isn't meant to. She feels she has to make herself sick to get rid of it. The words afterwards describes some of the horrors of what she has just done, "Her belly felt empty again, but her throat felt raw. So raw."
Did this book keep me reading? In a word: yes. Even though I read this during the read-a-thon, I wanted to keep reading. I needed to know how Beth would turn out. Would Jeremy be able to help her? Would her mother or brother notice? There were so many questions I wanted answered. But the one question I don't think was answered was simply, why?
I would recommend this book, contrary to my rather mixed review. I would just advise you that it focuses more on one girl's journey with anorexia than the reasons behind it.