Despite her best friend saying she’s the pretty one, Lizzie has never liked how she looks. She is insecure about her weight, and hesitant to share photos to the guys she dates online. So as she grows into adulthood, she works on shedding the weight that haunts her but even as the pounds come off, her need for validation from those around her remains.
This debut novel, shortlisted for the 2016 Giller Prize, is touted as “brilliant, hilarious, at times shocking” on the back cover, and so I felt like it might have given me a different sense of what this book was actually going to be like. It was definitely shocking at times, however I wouldn’t necessarily call it hilarious. Each chapter is a different vignette in Lizzie’s life, the narrative not necessarily a continuous flow from one chapter to the next. This glimpse into the protagonist’s life felt more raw and sad, as it basically told only the heartbreaking moments. Lizzie’s insight, while poignant, also felt brutally and uncomfortably honest as well. Not a single moment would I have said this novel was funny, and it truly made me wonder about those who did think Lizzie’s insecurity and self-esteem issues as “hilarious”.
I appreciated the way Awad tackles the intricacies of the character and the dynamics with those around her. The nuances of growing up uncomfortable in your own body, and the complexities of relationships – both platonic and romantic. She didn’t shy away from any of the awkward moments that Lizzie experienced which, while potentially making Lizzie not particularly likable at times, I respect that that’s the direction Awad went. Regardless of one’s own weight, I think many people can relate to those feelings that were brought forward in 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, especially during the formative years of growing up. Not everyone necessarily considers how our insecurities don’t go away once we grow into adulthood, no matter how much we may have changed on the outside. This book explores that very idea, showing how Lizzie’s relationships and interactions with everyone around her throughout her life continue to be affected by her self-esteem.