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Write On Ottawa: YA novel tackles the misunderestood issue of teenage anorexia

By Alejandro Bustos on September 26, 2013

On the surface, fifteen-year-old Grace is living a perfect teenage life.  Hired to work at the stables all summer to take care of her beloved horses, the Ottawa-resident has also caught the attention of Matt, a handsome co-worker.

Behind this contented picture, however, Grace is struggling with an eating disorder that is starting to take over her life.  As she obsessively counts her caloric intake, she threatens to set in motion a serious of events that could have serious consequences.

In her debut novel Objects in Mirror published by Red Deer Press, local writer Tudor Robins tackles the difficult issue of anorexia, a condition that is often taboo.

“Anorexia is something that people are afraid to talk about,” says Robins, who struggled with eating disorders herself when she was younger.  “Parents may be afraid to talk about it because they may think that they will cause it.”

The reasons behind anorexia are not fully known.  Many experts believe that eating disorders are a way for young people to cope with painful problems.  Of those who suffer from eating disorders, it is estimated that 90 to 95 per cent are female.

Objects in MirrorStudies suggest that this issue is much more prevalent than people may think.  For instance, some estimate that 40% of nine-year-old girls have dieted to lose weight.  Another study concluded that 27% of Ontario girls aged 12-18 had engaged in “severely problematic food and weight behaviour.”

With these troubling numbers, Tudor’s engaging novel is an important medium for young people to discuss with their friends and family the difficult issue of eating disorders.

Geared towards a teenage audience, the story follows Grace as she obsessively tracks in her journal her calories.  Biking and running regularly, she also goes to extremes to lose weight, such as taking extra long showers in the morning so she can skip breakfast.

“In my experience this is true,” says Robins, when asked about Grace’s efforts to skip breakfast and other meals.  “Speaking to others who suffered from eating disorders this is true.”

The irony of this behaviour is that Grace takes excellent care of the horses and would never deny them food.  This ability to help others while denying yourself is not uncommon among people with eating disorders, Robins tells me.  As a case in point, she describes how some people eagerly cook and bake for family and friends, while refusing to eat themselves.

This well-written book is a quick read that can be read by young people, parents and family members. While the story deals with a serious theme, it is also filled with the joys and emotion that is the teenage experience.

Robins, who has been riding horses since she was a young girl, is currently working on another young adult novel that also involves horses, although it is not a sequel to Objects in Mirror.  The local writer and mother of two boys is also researching another book about a train crash in Ottawa in 1913 that killed eight people.

When asked about the project about the 1913 crash, Robin replies that it took place near Westboro at McKellar, and is asking anyone with more information to contact her.

Tudor Robins will be at Kaleidoscope Kids’ Books at 1018 Bank Street on Saturday, September 28, from 1 to 3 pm, to sign copies of Objects in Mirror.