Cover Reveal: EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT YOU by Barbara Dee
The summer after my freshman year in college, I visited Spain, and at the end of the trip found that I’d gained a few pounds. So, without telling anyone or seeing a doctor or getting any nutritional advice, I went on a diet, which basically consisted of limiting calories. Severely.
The diet felt good. It made me feel as if I were taking control–of my body, and my life. Within a couple of weeks, I shed the pounds I’d gained from my trip, and a few extra. And then a few extra after those. I was now rail-thin, which meant I’d achieved the body type that was in vogue (not that I read Vogue, or any other fashion magazine, for that matter).
When I arrived back on campus for sophomore year, I couldn’t help noticing that four other classmates–all female, all high achievers–had discovered the same diet. I could tell they noticed that I’d discovered it, too. The weird thing was how the five of us decided (without ever explicitly acknowledging it) to avoid each other that entire semester. We knew each other’s secret, and I guess we realized it was best to keep it to ourselves.
Looking back, I’m shocked that no one–adult or classmate–ever sat us down and said: YOU HAVE ANOREXIA. IT’S A SERIOUS DISORDER. THIS IS HOW TO GET HELP. Even when I went to campus health services for what I assumed was flu-related fatigue, all the (male) doctor told me was that I “would be better off with a few more pounds.” No counseling. No follow-up.
Things went downhill from there. Don’t worry, I’ll spare you the details.
Somehow, miraculously, after two years of near-starvation, I recovered. And little by little, I began to understand how badly I’d endangered my health–so when I began teaching high school, I kept my eyes open for signs of disordered eating among my students, especially the girls. I paid special attention to a certain type of girl: the hard-driving, high-achieving perfectionist. Even if she seemed well-adjusted, even if she was athletic, I knew from my own experience that she could be secretly worried about the size and shape of her body –and that this worry could lead to self-destructive behavior.
What lead me to writing EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT YOU was learning that eating disorders, once associated with girls in high school and college, are now on the rise among tweens. I began wondering: How it was possible that thirty-five years after Title IX brought girls out to the playing fields, so many girls age nine to twelve had unhealthy, unrealistic body images? Why were so many middle school girls secretly starving themselves? After several conversations with a social worker specializing in treating tweens with eating disorders, I felt as if I were on all-too-familiar territory, back on my college campus.
As we were just discussing at NerdCampLI, so many “tough topics” that used to be considered “YA” are now very much “MG.” But in some ways, tween eating disorders are different from the late-adolescent variety. When I decided that my next middle grade novel would be about two seventh grade girls, one of whom has an eating disorder, I knew I needed to approach this subject in an age-sensitive way, with a light, even humorous, touch. So I chose to write from the perspective of Tally, a large, funny, proudly quirky math nerd with a healthy body image. On her grade’s overnight field trip to Washington, DC, Tally is assigned to share a hotel room with “Miss Perfect” Ava, and quickly discovers Ava’s secret. As Tally confronts her own friendship issues, she also struggles with what, if anything, she should do to help Ava, who insists that she doesn’t have a problem.
So while EVERYTHING is about body image and self-acceptance, it’s also a story about responsibility towards others. The seventh grade social studies teachers try to teach the kids the concept of “E pluribus unum”–how our nation is founded on the principle of unity despite differences. How are we bonded with, and what do we owe, other people, even when they’re not our friends? These days, in this political climate, these seem to me like important questions.
In my book, Tally comes to realize that even though she and Ava have a complicated, often difficult relationship, she owes Ava the truth about herself. Beyond that, she has the responsibility to do what she can to get Ava the help she needs. I wish I’d had a Tally back in college–someone who reached out, sat me down, and told me what I needed to hear. Someone who understood that even if we weren’t friends, we were classmates, and that meant we owed each other care and caring.
Barbara Dee has two books published in 2017–STAR-CROSSED (2017 Goodreads Choice Award Semi-Finalist for Best Middle Grade, 2018 ALA Rainbow List nominee, Cybils nominee) and HALFWAY NORMAL (Junior Library Guild selection, starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, Cybils nominee). She is also the author of TRUTH OR DARE and five other middle grade novels, all published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT YOU will be published by Aladdin/S&S on June 19, 2018. Barbara has happily served on panels at NerdCampMI, Nerdcamp NJ and NerdcampLI. She is one of the founders and directors of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival, which just celebrated its fifth anniversary.