TYRANNY by Lesley Fairfield (Tundra), 114 pages, $12.99 paper. Rating: NNNN
The b-side of becoming a Barbie girl in a Barbie world is the subject of Lesley Fairfield’s very compelling debut graphic novel about eating disorders.
Young Anna dreams of pouring her stories into the world. But after baby-fat worries give way to big-time teenage self-loathing, she ditches her literary dreams to chase girl power on two apples a day. After losing enough weight to make her ribs show, she plays guy magnet propelled by the cheerleading of a pro-anorexia website, she totally falls apart.
Tyranny is a page-turner, and though Anna’s initial descent into crazed dieting feels hasty – the mirror scolds her and adds 30 pounds of fat – the rest of the narrative is well-paced and convincing. Fairfield captures the nuanced psychological somersaults of the anorexic experience pitch-perfectly, from the honeymoon euphoria of thriving on thin air to the clammy isolation and physical sickness of carousel binging and purging.
Fairfield’s comic-book-style illustrations pop off the page. Anorexia, personified as a tangle of wires shaped like a woman with a witch’s nose, trails Anna and taunts her, urging her not to eat. The raft of doe-eyed, skinny waitresses (think Betty and Veronica moonlighting for CK Jeans) she meets at her trendy new job speaks volumes about our culture’s normalization of absurd thinness.
Satisfyingly, Anna stumbles toward healing, recovering the childhood tenacity she’d lost.
Tyranny is written for a young adult audience, but Fairfield’s honesty and insight give the story wide appeal. She immerses us in the social and physical experience of anorexia – in a succinct 112 pages – with both guts and grace.
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