Katelyn reviews Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi

unbearable lightness portia de rossi

When Portia de Rossi first released her memoir, I was just testing the waters of an eating disorder and six years past admitting to myself that I wasn’t straight. I desperately wanted to search the book for weight loss tips, but it had been described as so inspiring that I was afraid it would convince me to recover before I even got started (Plus I was afraid everyone would think I was a lesbian if they saw me reading a book by a famous lesbian). Throughout the next few years, I debated reading it, alternating between fear of recovery and fear of relapse. When I found it at a library sale a couple of weeks ago, I figured it was time and finally went for it, and I have to say, it surprised me.

First of all, I think it’s worth noting that I’m probably the healthiest I’ve ever been with regards to my mental health, and I participate in therapy regularly, and I found this book very triggering. The main focus of the memoir is de Rossi’s eating disorder and the time before her recovery, and this includes detailed descriptions of the methods she used to lose weight, her thoughts and feelings during this time—specifically self-hatred in the form of body image disturbance and internalized homophobia—and of course, numbers (weight, body measurements, calories, number of meals, number of exercises, and the list goes on and on as anyone with an eating disorder can tell you). If you’re thinking about reading this book to find some inspiration to work toward a healthier mindset and lifestyle, you will probably be disappointed.

There is plenty of debate around the topic of recovery when it comes to mental illness, especially among people with eating disorders, but I think people on all sides would agree that de Rossi’s outlook on her personal struggles and recovery are not exactly healthy. It could be that she was not far enough from the experience to look back with clarity, but it seems that she puts a lot of focus on a sudden and complete change brought on by her serious relationship with her ex-girlfriend and then maintained by her relationship with her wife. I don’t want to police people on how to handle their eating disorders, especially someone I don’t actually know personally, but I do worry about the message people who are in the depths of their struggle will take away from this, especially impressionable young girls.

Not to mention, there are some cringe-worthy parts in the epilogue that kind of stung, like the conversation between de Rossi and her wife, Ellen DeGeneres, in which Ellen calls de Rossi crazy, and a “poor thing” whom she wishes she could have “saved.”

“You did save me. You save me every single day.” I kiss her and get up off the bed to make her coffee. “I’m so proud of you, baby. It’ll help a lot of people.” As I pour the coffee, she suddenly appears at the doorway of the kitchen, her blond head poking around the door. “Just be sure and tell the people that you’re not crazy anymore.”

I’m sure there are people who will say I’m being too sensitive, but I’m also sure I’m not the only one who would be pretty upset if my significant other said something like that.

There is no perfect eating disorder memoir, just as there is no one, perfect and healthy way to recover from an eating disorder, and I respect that de Rossi’s story and methods are not the same as mine, but I can’t help but worry for her and for some of the people who might read this book.

However, even with my disappointment with the “recovery” aspects of the book, I thought the story was relatable, and de Rossi’s writing was simple yet captivating. She perfectly captured the experience of living with an eating disorder, from the life-altering moments to the mundane, stuck-in-traffic ruminations. One of my favorite passages is her description of the experience of eating nachos.

The blend of cheese and sour cream with the crispiness of the corn chips and creaminess of guacamole will always turn a sour mood into a happy one. A peace came over me when I ate food like that. Like life had no other meaning than pure enjoyment. I had nowhere to go and nothing to accomplish. For that moment, I could put life on hold and believe I was perfect the way I was. I was focused on the present—in the moment—and the moment was bliss on a corn chip.

The writing isn’t anything mind-blowing or particularly unique as it might be if written by a ghostwriter, but it is honest and real without the need to prove herself as a writer that is evident in other celebrity memoirs. Also unlike a lot of other celebrity memoirs, there isn’t a lot of name-dropping or bragging. Yes, a few stars are mentioned, as are award shows and paparazzi, but it’s done in a way so that it just feels like part of de Rossi’s job, just as it would if she was talking about working in a cubicle and talking to the guy in the copy room. So if you’re just looking for some Hollywood dirt or an inside scoop about Ally McBeal or Arrested Development, this probably isn’t the book for you.

This book also might not be for you if you’re just looking for a story about a famous lesbian’s coming out process. Although de Rossi puts a lot of emphasis on her experience in the closet and how it impacted her mental health, the actual descriptions of that experience are sparse and dull in comparison to the raw emotions behind her descriptions of her disordered eating and her relationship with her mother.

Unbearable Lightness wasn’t the inspiring push to recovery or the coming out story I was expecting. It’s not something I would recommend for people who are still feeling hopeless and trapped in their eating disorder, but it was still a breath of fresh air for me after deciding to leave my eating disorder behind once and for all. It made me feel less alone as de Rossi wrote the words that I’m still too afraid to speak. This also might make it a good read for anyone who has a loved one with an eating disorder so they can better understand what their loved one can’t explain. It could also start some healthy conversations. Above all else, it’s an interesting read and good as a memoir as well as a book about eating disorders. I just think it’s good to approach with caution.

Katelyn reviews Wet Moon Volume 1: Feeble Wanderings by Sophie Campbell

wet moon feeble wanderings

I must start this review by saying that I never read graphic novels—not for any particular reason besides that I never felt drawn to any—but this one intrigued me. The cover itself looked so ethereal yet dark and gave off the same vibes as the Southern Gothic stories I loved so much as a teenager, which is funny since the series is about a group of goths in the South.

Wet Moon Volume 1 follows Cleo Lovedrop and her friends as they begin their freshman year at an art school in the fictional town of Wet Moon, Florida. There is romance, mystery, and something even more sinister just beneath the surface of this swampy town…at least I think. Even after reading through the first book three times, I’m not entirely sure what is supposed to be happening, mostly because nothing seems to be happening yet. It is clear that some of the characters are not straight though, so I do know that much.

It seems to me that Campbell meant for this book to be an introduction to the series, but it’s a hazy introduction at best. It’s clear that there are issues between certain characters (like Cleo and the mysterious guy she keeps bumping into) but it isn’t clear enough to build suspense necessary to keep me reading.

The lack of plot and clarity are part of a bigger issue: the writing. Campbell’s writing is the biggest downfall. Writers who say can a lot in a few words are hard to find, and that’s what this book needs to have the same impact that the artwork has.

However, even without much of a plot or much clarity, the book probably could have been saved with well-rounded, interesting characters. Unfortunately, the characters seem more like middle-schoolers than college kids, and none of them are very likable; when they aren’t at each other’s’ throats (they don’t seem to have healthy or even pleasant friendships) they come off as generally uncaring toward other people, or in Cleo’s case, whiny and needy. The most likable character seems to be Audrey, but she still isn’t very interesting.

Reading this book was a bit of a struggle, not just because of the writing quality, but also because the words themselves were sometimes hard to decipher. They seem to be written in Campbell’s handwriting, which means that when one character has a lot to say, the words are crammed in one giant bubble. The journal entries were especially hard to read; I found myself spending a long time trying to read  them, and then when I finally did, I was frustrated to discover that they added very little to the (almost nonexistent) plot.

The one saving grace of this book was the artwork; it is absolutely gorgeous, and all of the characters are unique and diverse in terms of race, body type, etc. My favorite panels are the ones where Cleo and Myrtle look at themselves in the mirror. In some comics, they would have been drawn to look sexually appealing, but instead they looked like real women in the privacy of their bathrooms.

I only wish Campbell had hired someone else to write the book or to work with her on it. The artwork deserves much better accompaniment.

Katelyn reviews Sandcastles by Suzie Carr


I was first drawn to Sandcastles by the element of psychics. As someone who grew up with a grandmother who called herself psychic and was told she also has a similar gift, I have researched and wondered about the world of psychics and energy and spirits for years. I often find myself stuck between the staunch skepticism of my mind and the gut feelings and intuition I feel so in tune with. I started reading this novel with the hope that it would explore a similar conflict, and it did not disappoint.

On the skeptical side we have Lia, a neurotic workaholic who uses her business as an escape from her struggles with love, family and friends. Then we have the psychic, Willow, a divorced mother of two who happened to go to camp with Lia and still harbors residual feelings for her from their childhood. The other main character is Dean, Lia’s assistant and best friend, who is somewhere in the middle—more open-minded than Lia but still caught up in work and the bustle of office life. When Lia and Dean run into Willow at a flea market, all three characters find themselves discovering new, unexpected paths in their lives.

One of my favorite things about Sandcastles is that it switches between Lia and Willow’s points of view, allowing readers to see how they see each other and their own insecurities going into the relationship. Willow expresses how deeply she was wounded by people who did not accept her psychic abilities and made a mockery of her, including Lia during their time at camp together. However, Lia gets to tell her side of the story, how she was scared of the things she did not understand (something she was taught by her upbringing) and was constantly vying for acceptance from her adopted sister—who also went to camp with them and was terrified of Willow—and her parents who put her sister on a pedestal that Lia could never reach.

Carr has one main message in this novel: life is meant to be lived. By trying to get this message through, Carr sacrifices some of the story’s depth. Halfway through the story, the novel becomes mostly about Lia and her need to slow down and become more open-minded. We get to see all of Lia’s dynamics, both good and bad. We learn about her family (and we get to meet every member of her family eventually) and how it operates, about her last serious relationship, how she met her best friend, how she started her own business. We see Lia being closed-minded at times, and we see her being selfish, but it’s all understandable and relatable because we’ve learned why her mind and her life operate the way they do.

Willow, on the other hand, gets a generic backstory of an ex-husband she never really loved who cheated on her, is not a good father, and is now remarried. Like Lia, she had parents who did not accept her and preferred her sister, and they were important to her discovery of her gift, but then they sort of fade away; her mother dies during her childhood from a vague, unexplained illness, and then Willow lives with her aunt who is also psychic and a lesbian. We don’t get to see much of her personality besides some playfulness that comes out in Lia’s presence, and we never get to see her being unfair or unreasonable, or if she is, she is not called on it like Lia is and she never gets to discover new parts of herself like Dean and Lia do.

The other characters mostly serve to pad the novel and reinforce the message of living life to the fullest, including a dying man who is somewhat of a cliché; he has more life in him than any of the other characters, he is always happy and joking, everyone loves him, and confronting death has made him the wise, all-knowing guru of the story. Some of his suffering comes through in the end, but it still does not feel realistic, which is a shame because he could have added some more emotional elements, especially at the end of the novel, but those moments mostly fell flat or took some of the power away from the spots where the writing itself made an emotional impact, such as Lia and Dean’s heart-to-heart near the end of the novel.

Despite some of the weaker aspects of the novel, it was fun to read. Best of all, there was always some kind of tension in the book to keep it interesting, and each of those plot points felt natural and realistic. Plus, this novel is dominated by women, and almost all of the most important characters are queer, and it is always refreshing to read a book like that in this male-dominated, heteronormative society.

Katelyn reviews Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin

Silhouette of a Sparrow

Growing up, I could not get enough of historical fiction and books set in a time past. Any book that featured two girls falling in love was also irresistible to me. So when I heard about Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin, a young adult lesbian coming-of-age story set in the 1920s, the eager, history-loving 15-year-old in me just had to read it.

Silhouette of a Sparrow is Griffin’s first young adult novel, which might be why the narration has a more mature tone unlike many books for young adults in which authors tend to talk down to their audience or follow a more predictable pattern in fear of readers losing interest. Set in Excelsior, Minnesota, a real lakeside resort town, the novel follows 16-year-old Garnet Richardson who is feeling trapped by her life back home when she is sent off to Excelsior to stay with her father’s cousin, the uptight, snooty Mrs. Harrington and her rude, disinterested daughter, Hannah. While there, Garnet pushes the limitations set by her strict aunt, getting a job in a hat shop and befriending a free-spirited flapper named Isabella.

Although the relationship between Garnet and Isabella is at the heart of the novel, there is so much more going on; it isn’t just a love story. From the beginning, it is clear that the main character’s life is full of forced deception when her mother claims that she is sending her away so she won’t catch polio. There is a telling bit of narration at that point in the first chapter where Garnet tells the readers,

“At sixteen, I was hardly at risk for polio, but the real reasons for my going were among the many things unsaid between us…”

Between her father’s strange behavior and aloofness to her mother’s insistence on pushing lady-like behavior onto Garnet and planning her future wedding to a boy from school, it is clear that everyone in the Richardson is living by a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

One of the most intriguing elements that comes from this life draped in secrecy and unspoken rules is Garnet’s obsession with birds. They represent the freedom she longs for, and she is completely obsessed with them, constantly researching and observing them. Each chapter of the book is named after a different bird, and each bird represents a new stage of Garnet’s journey to find herself behind the wall of deception built by her family, her society, and even herself.

My favorite thing about this book is that Griffin manages to convey the stress so many teenagers feel when they realize that the lives they want for themselves do not match up with the lives their parents want for them and that they will have to find their own way. This experience is especially familiar to teenagers who experience same sex attraction. It is stressful and feels like the hardest thing in the world, and when you have gotten over that hump, things aren’t the same, and sometimes they’re a little bit broken, but there is a feeling of freedom and hope and the idea that in time, what is broken can be rebuilt into something better. And of course, nothing is certain, which makes it seem like anything is possible.

With all of the complicated conventions and messes of real life, Griffin manages to make the world seem a bit more poetic and beautifully synchronized for her main character. Her style has a sense of ease that makes the novel easy to get lost in without falling into the formulaic predictability of so many young adult novels. I finished the book in a two hour sitting and felt a sense of closure and satisfaction that comes with the delightful combination of an intriguing plot and solid writing.