A Trick of the Light

By Lois Metzger
Published on June 18th 2013
Published by Balzer & Bray
Source: ARC from publisher
Mike Welles had everything under control. But that was before. Now things are rough at home, and they’re getting confusing at school. He’s losing his sense of direction, and he feels like he’s a mess.

Then there’s a voice in his head. A friend, who’s trying to help him get control again. More than that—the voice can guide him to become faster and stronger than he was before, to rid his life of everything that’s holding him back. To figure out who he is again. If only Mike will listen.

Telling a story of a rarely recognized segment of eating disorder sufferers—young men—A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger is a book for fans of the complex characters and emotional truths in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls and Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why.
I didn't entirely know what I was getting into when I started reading this book -- the blurb on the back didn't mention the eating disorder, so the first few chapters were very eerie and creepy as I tried to fully understand what's going on.  (More on that in a minute.)  While I think it was actually really effective to not know precisely what the book's plot was, it's kind of hard to review this book without revealing this aspect.  (Additionally, with such a sensitive subject matter, I do think readers should be aware before-hand in case it's a topic that could be upsetting to them.)

So, like I said, the beginning of this book is told in a very creepy, almost surreal manner.  Our narrator speaks in the first person as we meet Mike and his best friend Tamio, but it's clear that the narrator isn't a third person in the friendship.  Instead, as the story goes on, the narrator starts giving suggestions and instructions to Mike.  Go to the gym, buy a mirror, don't eat that.  The narrator, it turns out, is his anorexia, the voice in the back of his head that tells him he's not thin enough, not strong enough, not good enough. We follow Mike as he first starts hearing this voice during a particularly tumultuous time in his life, through the escalation of his eating disorder and the eventual aftermath.

The choice to essentially have Mike's anorexia narrate the story was a bold one.  The author makes some stylistic choices that were a bit difficult to get used to at first, but I think they worked when looking at the "big picture" of the story.  For example, a lot of the dialogue is written in a script-like format.  (as in: Mike: "blah blah blah" / Tamio: "Blah blah blah!")  It was a different stylistic choice, one that I don't know how well I understand, but which made for interesting reading.  Having the villain, essentially, narrate the story gave things an interesting perspective.  Mike doesn't have the self awareness for most of the story to know exactly what's controlling him and to understand how he's hurting himself, and the narrator doesn't care and really sees Mike's struggle as "worth it" to perfect himself.

There were times when this book was very hard to read, for multiple reasons.  First, because the reader -- and the other people in Mike's life -- see what he's doing to himself, but his judgment is too clouded to realize it or believe it.  It's sad and sobering to see what Mike goes through, and to read about the negative thoughts he experiences all the time.  Second, I think it's hard for anyone to live in today's culture without coming out with some really negative body image issues. A lot of the things that the voice in Mike's head says to him -- he has to master the chaos in his life, master his body, get fitter, get stronger; his friends and family aren't there for him, no one loves him, look at how gross you look, etc. -- are things that I and a lot of people I know have thought, no matter how much we know better.  It's a very "there but for the grace of God go I" kind of thing, for me.

I think this is an important book to read, as it pretty directly tackles a very pressing, timely topic, but readers should be aware that it could be a very triggering read for individuals who are dealing with/have dealt with an eating disorder, have body image issues, etc.  It would be a very good book for someone of any age who perhaps has a friend or loved one dealing with an eating disorder, or who wants to understand more about what it may be like for someone in that situation.

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