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Thirteen-year-old Isabelle Lee is quietly mourning the recent sudden death of her father. Isabelle, her mother, and her younger sister April all miss him desperately, but they can't seem to talk about him or even acknowledge the pain they all feel after his death: "You cry in your room. I cry in my room. Mom cries in Mom's room. And in the morning everyone pretends like they never cried once in their lives. Like, 'It's gonna be a great day, kids! Pass the orange juice!'"

For Isabelle, the bottled-up sadness about her dad's death manifests itself as she repeatedly binges and purges. When April discovers Isabelle's bulimia, she reports it to their mother, who signs up Isabelle for group therapy and then acts as if the problem can be solved through healthy diet and long bike rides.

Group is agonizing for Isabelle; she hates journaling, and she can't bring herself to talk about her dad's death in front of the other girls. Much to Isabelle's surprise, Ashley Barnum, the most perfect girl in the eighth grade, shows up at Group. It turns out that Ashley also has bulimia. At first, Isabelle revels in this new connection with Ashley, who had never noticed her before. The two of them go out for massive breakfasts and late-night sundaes and then throw up together (these binging and purging scenes are often described in graphic detail). Pretty soon, though, Isabelle realizes that Ashley's perfect life might not be so perfect after all and that Ashley's problems might be the result of her own complex family history.

PERFECT would be an excellent book for mothers and preteen/teen daughters to read together. The damaged relationship between Isabelle and her mother is a key element of the book, as is the acknowledgment that eating disorders are becoming problems for younger and younger girls. Above all, Natasha Friend's debut novel stresses the need to talk about problems, to bring them to the surface before they cause irreversible damage. PERFECT is the perfect book to get those conversations started.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 16, 2004

by Natasha Friend

  • Publication Date: September 16, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Milkweed Editions
  • ISBN-10: 1571316523
  • ISBN-13: 9781571316523