Jeff is happily connected to his beautiful girlfriend, Norma, a skilled potter and social success, when "the fat girl," Ellen, enters their pottery class. Finding himself despising her, Jeff feels responsible when one day she overhears his mean remarks about her fat, her awkwardness, and her incompetence. Attempting to atone for his behavior, he visits her at her home and finds himself involved in more than he anticipated when she confides that she is considering suicide.

For reasons he himself doesn't understand until much later, he gradually becomes both friend and caretaker and, as she loses weight under his guidance, a possessive and supervisory boyfriend. Ellen's transformation eventuates in a new sense of her own worth and objectives, and also in a startling confrontation with the boy from whose help she also has to break free.

Readers are left to ponder the implicit connection between Jeff's controlling behavior toward his girlfriend protégé and his ambivalent relationship with a mother whose reaction to divorce has been to control her children in ways that entrap them. Both the protagonists learn valuable and also very painful lessons.


Marilyn Sachs claimed that this was one of the hardest books she had written. In it she takes on at least two of the most difficult issues in American culture: obesity, and its relationship to power dynamics within family and social systems.

While the book chronicles the pain and slow transformation of an adolescent girl buried in layers of fat that insulate and isolate her within her family and school environments, it focuses even more closely on the development of the boy who takes what is at first a courageous and charitable interest in befriending and helping her, and is ultimately forced to confront his own mixed motives for doing so. The power issues in his family are as troubled and troubling as the unacknowledged issues in her own family and psyche to which obsessive eating is a dramatic response.

The book is forthright and sensitive. It is a useful point of departure for discussion on a number of topics related to family and psychosomatic problems, both for teens struggling with body-image and for those fortunate enough not to have those issues.


This book won a Best Books for Young Adults citation from the American Library Association.


E. P. Dutton

Place Published

New York