Women are bombarded with imagery of what it means to be perfect and beautiful every day by the media. Photoshopped images of perfect skin and thin bodies grace the covers of the most popular magazines. Moms are confronted with the reality that their postpartum bodies are too soft, and are encouraged to “get their bodies back” as if pregnancy caused them to lose them in the first place. Most of us have heard that little voice in our heads, as we look at the magazine covers of perfect women, and then compare the person we see in the mirror everyday to what the ideal image should be. Yet, there are a too few of us willing to drag that voice out into the light and expose it for the self-hatred that it is.
Elena Vanishing does just that; it sets that loathsome inner voice as a stark antagonist in the author’s struggle with her eating disorder. The horrible foul creature that lives inside of Elena; telling her she’s ugly and not good enough, hurling vile insult after insult, commanding her into submission, and bending her to its will, is put on full display for us all to see here. You can not avoid being charmed by Elena and her wit. While clearly attempting to be bigger and better than her circumstances, Elena fights like a champion, however Elena Vanishing is not a triumphant inspiring tale of overcoming illness. It is not a “how to” novel on how to battle back from anorexia and mend a family. The words are raw, brutal, and at times painful to read as Elena deals with her trauma, and comes to terms with her eating disorder that she has been keeping from her parents. It is only after suffering through the pain that Elena finally realizes the true nature of that inner voice of hers, and that is when you feel the sense of peaceful calmness knowing that she has survived.
There is a disclaimer in the beginning advising the reader that while this memoir is very true and real, some events have been switched around to give a more cohesive story. Some of the names, situations, and notable characteristics of people and places and moments in time have been modified to protect others. It’s a standard warning; however, it doesn’t take away from the overall narrative. Co-written with Elena Dunkle’s mother, the award winning young adult fantasy author Clare Dunkle, Elena Vanishing is bluntly honest from cover to cover. Even with the disclaimer in the beginning, you become so immersed in Elena’s life, and the struggle her family goes through to save her, that it never occurs to you that something may not have happened exactly in the way it was told. As a reader, you understand that this is as real as anyone can remember anything completely when going through something as traumatic and destructive as anorexia. There are vivid moments that depict Elena going in an out of consciousness, in between hospitals, in between rehab facilities, that clearly define the urgency of her treatment and disease.
Showing such a bleak and dark picture is a significant leap from other young adult memoirs depicting issues of depression, self-harm, OCD, and eating disorders, and I would caution strongly that there are situations in this book that could be triggers for readers still dealing with similar trauma in their lives. This book is exceedingly well-written; not a word or moment is wasted, and the level of intensity is sustained throughout the entire novel. Elena is honest in sharing some of her most painful memories. You get a deeper understanding of what it is like for women to battle the demon on the inside, and fight the daily battle on the outside to find the perfect number that means beautiful.
ELENA VANISHING: A Memoir
By Elena Dunkle and Clare B. Dunkle
May 19, 2015