Summary: The Girls at 17 Swann Street
Yara Zgheib’s debut follows a young woman struggling with anorexia. Anna Roux’s life as she knows it slowly disintegrates after an injury halts her career as a ballerina and she moves from Paris to America with her husband. Working as a cashier in a store, she begins to slip into disordered eating. At first, her husband Matthias tries to maintain normalcy, acting like all is well. Eventually, he convinces her to get treatment after she faints in the bathroom one night.
Most of the story plays out in the treatment facility at 17 Swann Street where she meets other women with various eating disorders. Anna’s treatment progress is documented in doctor-style notes as she undergoes behavioral therapy and is forced to face her fear of food. Zgheib’s novel alternates between Anna’s past and present, showing readers the events leading up to her anorexia.
The Girls at 17 Swann Street is moving; the author handles her subject sensitively and yet doesn’t shield readers from the hard truths of eating disorders. Particularly in Anna’s medical notes and in her descriptions of her responses to food, we see how deep anorexia eats. Readers will feel the pain of all the girls every time they sit for a meal; Anna needs over half an hour to finish a bagel and cream cheese in the morning.
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With my background in medicine, Anna’s medical charts were a unique way to tell her story–welcome breaks from the usual narrative. Anna’s story is also just compelling enough to get readers to the end of the book. Her husband’s unrelenting love and her history of trauma will make readers root for her throughout the book.
Unfortunately, for me, besides the authentic depiction of an eating disorder, not much else is engaging about this story. Anna is a lackluster character, as are many of the characters. Even with her backstory, I struggled to find her interesting. The language in this book also didn’t work for me. While I understand that the protagonist is French, her manner of speaking feels stilted and hinders the story’s flow for me.
Overall: The Girls at 17 Swann Street
I would still recommend this book for its convincing portrayal of life with an eating disorder. Yara Zgheib shows that anorexia goes beyond just starvation and that recovery from a mental illness is often slow and non-linear. Even if some aspects of the novel didn’t work for me, The Girls at 17 Swann Street provides a much-needed education about eating disorders.
Buy This Book
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Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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