The Girls at 17 Swann Street
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by Yara Zgheib
Publication date: February 5, 2019
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
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.
Anna is a professional dancer from Paris who finds herself in the middle of Missouri after she follows the love of her life. Feeling out of control, alone, and depressed, Anna begins to spiral downward into the beast known as anorexia. In a state of desperation, she is admitted to 17 Swann St, a facility to help her find a path of self-discovery and recovery. Anna and her fellow patients form a unique bond that can only be brought together by a fear of eating. With six other women, they battle the anxiety of eating six meals a day in order to reclaim their lives. Traveling on her journey to recovery, Anna learns about herself and the strength she can possess.
This book is heartbreaking, dark, and evokes multiple emotions of pain as well as strength. Anna’s anorexia and her food anxiety is developed in such a vulnerable and real way, that the reader cannot help but feel every bit of pain Anna is feeling. Zgheib does a beautiful job creating characters suffering from every type of eating disorder, demonstrating the true struggles faced by those plagued with this disease. The juxtaposition between the beauty of their friendships and the pain of taking a bite of food is truly heart-wrenching. I highly recommend this book as an important read.