Book Review

Before We Were Blue

Before We Were Blue

  • Author: E.J. Schwartz
  • Genre: YA Contemporary
  • Publication Date: September 14, 2021
  • Publisher: Flux

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am offering my honest opinion voluntarily.

CONTENT WARNING: eating disorder, antisemitism, bullying, mention of death, mention of suicide, mention of self-harm, mention of sexual assault, mention of infidelity

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Get healthy on their own—or stay sick together?

At Recovery and Relief, a treatment center for girls with eating disorders, the first thing Shoshana Winnick does is attach herself to vibrant but troubled Rowan Parish. Shoshana—a cheerleader on a hit reality TV show—was admitted for starving herself to ensure her growth spurt didn’t ruin her infamous tumbling skills. Rowan, on the other hand, has known anorexia her entire life, thanks to her mother’s “chew and spit” guidance. Through the drudgery and drama of treatment life, Shoshana and Rowan develop a fierce intimacy—and for Rowan, a budding infatuation, that neither girl expects.

As “Gray Girls,” patients in the center’s Gray plan, Shoshana and Rowan are constantly under the nurses’ watchful eyes. They dream of being Blue, when they will enjoy more freedom and the knowledge that their days at the center are numbered. But going home means separating and returning to all the challenges they left behind. The closer Shoshana and Rowan become, the more they cling to each other—and their destructive patterns. Ultimately, the girls will have to choose: their recovery or their relationship.

This was a tough book, with a lot of heavy material involved. It starts out with two girls who are in treatment for eating disorders, and involved in an unhealthy friendship. Shoshana’s character is relatively likable initially, while Rowan is intensely unlikable. There’s more than a hint of antisemitism in some of Rowan’s thoughts about Shoshana, despite her growing feelings for her. It pops up early, as in the first sentence of her first POV chapter, and it made me dislike her even more than I already did. However, this seems to be a theme, since Shoshana faces it in her outside life as well. 

The girls are in a treatment facility where they have no access to their phones, the internet, and are limited in their contact with family members. I don’t know very much at all about eating disorder treatment, but it surprised me that the girls all seemed to have no worries about insurance plan coverage. It didn’t seem entirely realistic that this treatment would be covered for months, especially with the state of healthcare coverage in the US. I was also surprised that family sessions weren’t mentioned, since I would have expected families to be at least minimally included in the treatment process. But as I said, this isn’t an area that I know much about. 

As far as the eating disorder portrayal, the story didn’t glorify it. The characters were open about their struggles while also discussing the ugly side effects of having an eating disorder. The grim reality of life with an eating disorder and the prognosis was mentioned.

After reading further into the story, I enjoyed seeing the characters change. Watching them grow, progress, slip, pick themselves up, struggle through the recovery process in a non-linear fashion was fascinating. And I noticed that my feelings about Shoshana and Rowan changed dramatically over the course of the story. While I started reading feeling one way, I finished feeling completely differently. 

This wasn’t the easiest book to read, since it dealt with some serious subject matter, but it is something that many people face on a daily basis. It was a good book, and I enjoyed getting to learn more about the characters, to get inside their heads. It also dealt with sexuality in the two MCs, both of whom are figuring out how they want to define themselves. I enjoyed seeing them come to terms with the labels they wanted to use to refer to themselves. 

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