While many women writers are leaning toward a brand of feminism that links all women by making sweeping (and often suffocating) generalizations, Mona Awad insists on difference. She grants Lizzie, her female main character, intense specificity, making her a crucial addition to the fat girl story ... Awad validates the stumbling messiness of her character — a girl whose relation to her own physicality compromises her coming of age and ability to have any true self-revelation — by elevating her experience to something of clear literary value.
The way food and body image define Elizabeth’s life is depressing and sad. But the book is neither. There is so much humor here — much of it dark, but spot on ... Lizzie’s inner dialogue is scathingly funny, especially around people she can’t stand — which is a lot of people.
The book feels less like a traditional novel than a collection of 13 moving portraits of Lizzie at different cross-sections of her life, fulfilling the promise of its title — and the prophecy the teenage Lizzie makes in McDonald’s: 'I’m going to grow into that nose and develop an eating disorder. I’ll be hungry and angry all my life, but I’ll also have a hell of a time.'
Awad’s prose style is spare, which keeps the novel from descending into voyeurism, though it also means that Elizabeth spends much of the book hiding from the reader. She’s not comfortable enough to linger for more than a paragraph or two of interiority ... In the last few lines both Awad and Elizabeth seem to be trying to persuade her, over all the cliches that attach to pedalling nowhere, that her obsession with weight has not doomed her to any particular fate. The effect is subtle, but poignant, not least because you’re not quite sure where the author lands on the subject.
...when Lizzie is thin that the book becomes truly painful to read, because Lizzie’s hurt is so tangible. Her hunger is palpable to the point that I found myself starving with her. The gnawing in my stomach would become so intense while I was reading, that I would frequently put down the book to get up and make myself food.
Before all the hours of cardio, the dinners of grains, the awful relationships and the dressing-room visits that end in tears, teenage Lizzie makes a promise to herself: 'Later on I’m going to be really f-cking beautiful...I’ll be hungry and angry all my life but I’ll also have a hell of a time.' A hell, indeed. And Awad’s sensitive, unflinching depiction of it is a valuable addition to the canon of American womanhood.
As a portrait of the body-image issues and low-level eating disorders that afflict almost all American women, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is devastatingly thorough, its 13 short stories as addictive as potato chips and as painful as the prospect of eating nothing but 4-ounce portions of steamed fish for the rest of your life.