The Mud and Stars Book Blog

thoughts from a girl who spends her days in other worlds…

Book review: ‘Nothing Tastes As Good’ by Claire Hennessy

on July 31, 2017

nothingtastesasgood

Nothing Tastes As Good. Claire Hennessy. Hot Key Books. June 2016.

Don’t call her a guardian angel. Annabel is dead – but she hasn’t completely gone away. Annabel immediately understands why her first assignment as a ghostly helper is to her old classmate: Julia is fat. And being fat makes you unhappy. Simple, right?

As Annabel shadows Julia’s life in the pressured final year of school, Julia gradually lets Annabel’s voice in, guiding her thoughts towards her body, food and control.

But nothing is as simple as it first seems. Spending time in Julia’s head seems to be having its own effect on Annabel . . . And she knows that once the voices take hold, it’s hard to ignore them.


Trigger warning: anorexia, bulimia

I’m still not 100% sure how I feel about this book. Initially, as I closed the final page, I went straight onto Goodreads and rated it 4 stars, because the ending made me cry, and I always rate books highly if they draw that much emotion from me. However, after having a think, I decided to lower my rating to 3 stars, because there were aspects of this book which made me uncomfortable, and I cannot dismiss them.

The novel follows Annabel, an anorexic girl who has died of heart failure, and narrates the story from beyond the grave. In the afterlife, Annabel becomes a kind of spirit guide/guardian angel, and is assigned to help a girl called Julia down on earth. Julia is overweight, and Annabel immediately assumes that, in order to ‘help’ Julia, she must encourage Julia to lose weight.

The premise of this story was so interesting to me, and I found the way Annabel becomes the voice in Julia’s head, telling her she is fat and disgusting and will only be happy if she is thin, extremely clever. The things Annabel whispers in Julia’s ear are exactly the kind of lies her own brain led her to the end believing. Although making Annabel the ‘voice’ of anorexia was a clever concept, I also found her words incredibly uncomfortable to read. I understand that this book isn’t intending to fat shame anyone (in fact, it’s aiming to do the opposite), however Annabel’s words were so toxic and spiteful that I found myself taking offence to them. If you suffer from body self-esteem issues, I think reading what Annabel has to say to Julia, an overweight girl, could potentially be quite damaging (as indeed they were to Julia in the story!)

The other thing I found quite difficult about this read was the way Annabel’s anorexia was glamorised (albeit only by Annabel herself). I had some problems with food when I was a teenage, and I know that if I had read this book at the time, it would have enabled me massively. I understand why the author chose to write about anorexia in this way to a certain extent, because the voice is Annabel’s, and I know from the many, many thinspo blogs I read as a teenager that the way Annabel talks about the ‘perfection’ she is aiming for is authentic. However, I don’t think the realities of anorexia and the damage it does were explored in quite enough detail to counter this, and if you are recovering from an eating disorder right now, I would advise you stay well away from this book, because I believe it could be very triggering indeed.

Something I did really love about this book was Julia. Julia was a fantastic character, with so much going for her: she was intelligent, driven, and her passion for journalism (as editor of her school newspaper) was wonderful to see. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book where the main character has an actual hobby, and I found it really interesting to see what a huge part it played in Julia’s story (particularly as the pressure to do as good a job as her predecessor was such a huge trigger for her eating disorder).

I also really enjoyed the romantic storyline in this book; Julia is in love with a boy who works on the newspaper with her. The love story was sweet, and it was refreshing to see a romantic storyline with an overweight protagonist where the weight of said protagonist was not an issue for the boy/something he had to come to terms with before he dated her. I was also really glad this book did not fall into the trap of having romance be what eventually ‘saves’ the mentally ill protagonist.

I didn’t love Annabel quite as much as I loved Julia, because she was a tricky character to get a clear picture of. Although the story is narrated from her point of view, we don’t learn an awful lot about her, beyond the fact that she starved herself to the point of heart failure. I thought this was a shame, because Annabel had the potential to be a really interesting character, but she lacked depth and development. Annabel’s character arc was very much about her realising how much she missed out on by making losing weight the focal point and purpose of her life. Whilst in theory that’s a positive message (because there is so much more to life than dieting), I’m not sure this context was the best way to convey that message. The implication here is that Annabel has wasted her life; she could have been bright and brilliant like Julia, had a hobby she loved, met a person she loved, and been happy, but instead she chose to spend her life starving herself. But the thing is… mental illness isn’t something you choose. Annabel may have missed out on those things, but at the fault of her illness, not of herself. Because of these implications, I ended up being a little bit confused about what this book was really trying to say.

Overall, this was a very interesting book, and I did enjoy reading it, but parts of it made me feel uncomfortable, and I’m not sure they were handled as well as they could have been. I really loved the ending, and found it very moving, but I think had the path toward that ending been lengthier, taking more time to explore all of the issues and ideas the book contained, it would have been a more solid read for me.

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9 responses to “Book review: ‘Nothing Tastes As Good’ by Claire Hennessy

  1. This sounds really interesting, and like it has some complex story lines. Great review! 😊

    • mudandstars says:

      Thank you! 😀 Yes it was a very interesting book – one which makes you think and want to discuss! If you end up picking it up, let me know – I’d love to talk about it with somebody 🙂

  2. Very good and insightful review! I love how you went back on your rating. Sometimes I do this too, this is why I like to keep the rating unknown until the very end. I like that this sounds complex but you made some great points that might irk me, like the glamorization of anorexia. Having suffered from it, this makes me so mad! It’s too bad Annabel’s voice wasn’t counterbalanced with the reality of it.

    • mudandstars says:

      Thank you so much! Yes those things irked me too – I think if it had gone into the reality of the illness to counter the glamorization it would have been a more powerful book. I’m glad I’m not the only one who goes back on ratings – I always feel so flakey haha.

  3. Ah yes I’m the same about books that make me emotional- so I get why that would make you put the rating higher- and I also get why you want to change that when you thought about the story more (I do that with ratings from time to time too). The premise is very intriguing. I think you’re right though- the style sounds tough going. It’s just a shame Annabel’s character wasn’t developed as much to interact with the voice of anorexia in the story. Great review!

    • mudandstars says:

      Thank you! Yes I think it would have been a much more powerful book if it had just gone a little further with her characterization, and the reality of her illness. I seem to be going back on a lot of ratings recently – I’m glad I’m not the only one! I think I do the same thing you do – I rate instantly on emotion, and then once I’ve thought about it I re-rate.

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