In honor of the paperback release of Lois Metzger's A Trick of the Light, an incredible story of a boy and his downward spiral into the world of eating disorders, we have Lois stopping by to talk about the severity of eating disorders and why she felt she needed to shine a light on the, especially in young men. We also have a giveaway of the paperback (open internationally as long as Book Depository ships to your country) or a signed paperback (US Only) courtesy of Lois Metzger, which I hope you'll enter so you can enjoy A Trick of the Light as much as I did.
“Telling a story of a rarely recognized segment of eating disorder sufferers—young men—A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger is a book for fans of the complex characters and emotional truths in Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls and Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why.
Mike Welles had everything under control. But that was before. Now things are rough at home, and they're getting confusing at school. He's losing his sense of direction, and he feels like he's a mess. Then there's a voice in his head. A friend, who's trying to help him get control again. More than that—the voice can guide him to become faster and stronger than he was before, to rid his life of everything that's holding him back. To figure out who he is again. If only Mike will listen.”
A Trick of the Light is the story of a young man who develops an eating disorder as a way to cope with things in his life. What was it that inspired you to write about eating disorders?
I came across a newspaper article about a young man with an eating disorder. It was called “Not For Girls Only,” and it opened my eyes to the fact that boys and men developed eating disorders in surprisingly high numbers—of the 10 million people in this country with eating disorders, at least one-tenth are male, so that means at least one million boys and men. (Some estimates say that one-third of eating-disorder sufferers are male.) The topic—fascinating, horrifying—inspired me to write a novel.
I've seen other books on eating disorders, but they all seem to be focused on teenage girls. In fact, I'd never even thought about a boy developing an eating disorder. That definitely made A Trick of the Light a unique and informative read for me. What was it that convinced you that ATotL should focus on a boy like Mike?
As you say, there are many books about girls, and I was interested in how the issue manifested itself in boys. Of course every girl and boy is different, but I noticed some general patterns: Girls tend to focus on thinness; boys think about strengthening their bodies and getting muscular. Girls restrict food to lose weight; boys over-exercise. Mike is a composite character of several young men I interviewed for the book. In one case, a chance remark about a boy looking “chubby” led to a full-blown eating disorder. It can happen that quickly (and innocently). Another young man I spoke to said he lost 50 pounds in a month. Weight loss can happen very quickly, too.
My favorite part of A Trick of the Light is its narrator. It's the first thing that grabbed me when I opened the book and it's what makes ATotL so memorable. How did you come up with the idea to write a book about an eating disorder from the point of view of the eating disorder?
One of the most unusual and insidious symptoms of an eating disorder is a relentlessly critical voice in the head. Originally the book was written from Mike’s point-of-view, and the voice in his head interrupted his thoughts and actions. This became more and more awkward, because Mike is avoiding the truth and the voice is constantly lying. Mike is struggling and he’s all over the place, while the voice has an agenda and a clear, fixed, focused way of looking at the world. Eventually, the voice took over the book and told the story it wanted to tell. Sometimes this meant losing something I liked, but if the voice wouldn’t think it or say it, it had to go.
Do you have a favorite line from ATotL and why?
My favorite line is the explanation of the title but that is a major spoiler, so I will focus on another line I like a lot. When Mike is in a group therapy setting, a lot of the participants talk on and on. Mike is thinking about how
“Death is here, like it’s another person in the circle.”The voice in his head snaps back,
“Does it never shut up, like the rest of them?”
I liked the fact that Mike is being so heavy and melodramatic, and the voice in his head, feeling threatened by the truth of it, makes light of it with a nasty joke.
I think this might be the toughest question I ask you, but do you have any advice for someone dealing with an eating disorder or someone who knows someone dealing with one?
It’s actually an excellent question and a very necessary one. It’s likely that someone with an eating disorder will not try to get help, so it’s up to family and friends. And help must be gotten immediately, because eating disorders can escalate quickly and are so deadly—they have the highest mortality rate of any psychological disorder (estimates are as high as 20 percent). A good first step is to call the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA): 1-800-931-2237.
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