We always love hearing about an author's inpiration behind a novel. It can be small spark of an idea, but it is able to grow into a story. Stephanie Elliot, author of SAD PERFECT, is here to share her story about how her novel came to be. The title SAD PERFECT was the first part of the book that came to her, the small spark that ignited into her novel. Inspired by Stephanie's daughter, who has an eating disorder, SAD PERFECT follows Pea who too has an eating disorder and when she meets a boy realizes she can't pretend that everything is okay.
Many authors have specific approaches when they plan to write a novel, but SAD PERFECT was a very backward writing experience for me. I hadn’t actually set out to write a young adult novel. The first thing that happened was a title was born, yet I didn’t realize it was a title for a book. In fact, when the phrase “Sad Perfect” first surfaced, it meant something completely different. I had no idea it would be a title for a novel based on my daughter and her experience with the unique eating disorder ARFID, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.
My teen daughter was in the midst of a 20-week intensive outpatient therapy program and it was family night. Parents were invited to talk with our children about what their eating disorders were doing to them, and to us, and what kind of effect it was having on our families. We were given sheets of paper and asked to draw a picture of our daughters, and what they represented at that particular stage of the process.
I knew immediately what I would draw, how I wanted to depict McKaelen at that moment. I drew her face and her hair as best as I could. I used a black marker to make a blindfold for her eyes, and I “X”ed out her lips with a bright red Sharpie to indicate that no food would go into her mouth, because she didn’t eat.
I completed the picture by adding the words: Sad Perfect.
These words, Sad Perfect, were stuck in my head long after that, floating around, reminding me of how I envisioned my daughter, perfect on the outside, broken internally. It wasn’t pleasant and so I kept the thoughts pushed back.
And then, my daughter came home sunburned and smiley from a day on the river and told me about a boy she met.
And something happened. I felt the need to document what she was telling me about this ‘meet-cute’ she had with this boy on the river. I imagined how they had floated for hours in the Arizona sunshine. I envisioned how they had flirted and held hands, and splashed each other in the water. I wanted to believe that she could be a normal teenager in the midst of her eating disorder and the depression and anxiety that accompanied it. I thought about how she had found some fun despite the therapy and her hurt and pain. I wanted to document the joy she was feeling.
So I wrote what I thought was a vignette about my daughter’s magical day.
And then it became much, much more because I didn’t stop writing.
I wrote a second chapter fictionalizing more about the boy, and friends and family issues, and then I incorporated the truths about ARFID, and therapy and my daughter’s struggles, and I kept on writing.
Once I realized it was starting to feel like a book, I figured I owed it to my daughter to tell her I was writing about her. So one evening, after her therapy, I told her I was writing about her eating disorder and asked her if this was okay?
She was ecstatic with the idea and embraced the thought of us helping others become informed about ARFID, so much so that she started her own YouTube channel to bring awareness to others.
And she told me to keep writing. So I finished SAD PERFECT.
I hope SAD PERFECT will help teen readers. I hope that SAD PERFECT will help others who may be struggling with eating. And maybe some readers who might not know about ARFID will see themselves in the main character and find relief that there is a name for what they have. I hope that the book will also help young people understand that they are not alone in their fears, whether they are struggling with an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, social, or if they’re just having a hard time being a teenager in today’s world.
I want teens to feel less alone, less hurt, and less fearful about their struggles. If teens who read SAD PERFECT come away feeling better in the world in which they navigate, then everything my daughter has been through will have been worth it.