Title: Big Fat Disaster
Author: Beth Fehlbaum
Genre: YA, contemporary
Publisher: Merit Press
Publication Date: April 18, 2014
Synopsis from Goodreads: Insecure, shy, and way overweight, Colby hates the limelight as much as her pageant-pretty mom and sisters love it. It’s her life: Dad’s a superstar, running for office on a family values platform. Then suddenly, he ditches his marriage for a younger woman and gets caught stealing money from the campaign. Everyone hates Colby for finding out and blowing the whistle on him. From a mansion, they end up in a poor relative’s trailer, where her mom’s contempt swells right along with Colby’s supersized jeans. Then, a cruel video of Colby half-dressed, made by her cousin Ryan, finds its way onto the internet. Colby plans her own death. A tragic family accident intervenes, and Colby’s role in it seems to paint her as a hero, but she’s only a fraud. Finally, threatened with exposure, Colby must face facts about her selfish mother and her own shame. Harrowing and hopeful, proof that the truth that saves us can come with a fierce and terrible price, Big Fat Disaster is that rare thing, a story that is authentically new.
It’s taken me a good week and a half to sort out my thoughts and actually sit down to write this review. Big Fat Disaster had a heaping pile of potential, a fantastic start, and a heartbreaking message, but the last 10% of the book threw that all away. This book left me sobbing – and not in the good way. I was so angry at the ending that I had to take a good ten minutes to let it all out. I’ll try to sum it up in a few bullet points, and I will have one spoiler, but it’s going to be whited out so just highlight it if you want to read it.
Here’s what was great:
- The focus on Binge Eating Disorder instead of Anorexia or Bulimia. Colby is never officially diagnosed with BED, and I may be wrong, but she has all the markers of the disorder. I think it’s really important that Fehlbaum chose that specific ED, because most attention on EDs goes to anorexia or bulimia.
- Fehlbaum wrote all the characters in a way that you can easily connect with them – from page one I felt immediately attached to every single character. I felt the emotions so strongly, like they were my own.
- Fehlbaum doesn’t shy away from the painful, dirty parts of the story. It’s raw, open, and beyond compelling. Her brutal honesty is the shining part of the book.
All of this was the first 90% of the book, and I was ready to give it 5 stars, but then…
- This book can be very triggering. I had horrible body-hate and low self esteem all through high school, and even though I’ve made some really big leaps forward in my confidence, reading this opened all those old feelings. I was able to push it back and separate myself, but everyone is different. Disaster is written in a way that it’s so easy to connect with Colby, so anyone with any of these issues I really recommend they read slowly and understand that it’s kind of like walking through a mine field.
- Here’s my spoilery rant: Ryan, Colby’s cousin, dies. And it’s not so much that he dies, it’s how and when he dies. I’m all for the “death makes a character realize what’s important” trope, but not this way. Ryan had so much baggage that’s barely unpacked, and at surface level he’s one of those guys you just want to punch repeatedly, but underneath I think he had a lot of potential. But we never found that out, because before any of that can happen, he saves Colby from her suicide attempt and is killed in the process. I can’t pinpoint exactly why this makes me so angry, but to kill this character when he had only started to truly present himself… I just had so much hope for him. I wanted to see him work through all of his past and heal along with Colby. And maybe I’m so angry because it’s just so realistic: some people don’t get the chance to recover. But even if this was truly the way it was going to happen, I could have worked past it. However, Ryan’s death is passed over far too quickly, and he’s all but forgotten by the end of the book. I know he’s not real, but the mistreatment of Ryan’s character is probably the main reason why Big Fat Disaster turned so sour for me. Okay, spoiler over.
- This felt like an episode of Glee. There were so many issues addressed that ultimately Fehlbaum didn’t really make a point about any of them. Victim blaming, cheating on your wife, committing fraud, favoritism for certain kids in high school, eating disorders, spousal and child abuse, ignorant families – and more. There was so much to focus on that in the end I was just frustrated and didn’t feel like there was a resolution for anything.
- The ending was too abrupt – right when the plot started to level out and reach the climax, it shut down in about three pages. I was so invested, and then to have it all ripped away was beyond disappointing.
Ultimately, Big Fat Disaster only succeeded in reminding me how much the world sucks sometimes, and how many issues there are to be irate about. I thought I was going to give it a glowing review, and truly believed it was one of those books that would be so important for readers because it understands those feelings of self-hatred, but that last 10% and the resolution of the book left so much to be desired.
I’d objectively recommend reading it for yourself, because it’s a bold and chilling look at some hard realities. But from a personal perspective, I’d say stay away.
My Final Rating: