Growing up in the shadow of a famous mother, Clara has never felt good about her body. Now, at sixteen, she has an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. After a social media disaster, she decides to escape for the summer to Paris to stay with her estranged dad and her six-year-old brother, Alastair, who is on the autism spectrum. Charged with his care, Clara and Alastair set out to explore the city. Paris, and a handsome young French baker, teaches Clara about first love, and a new love of food. And Alastair teachers Clara about patience, trust, and the beauty of loving without judgment.
I have to say that I had a complicated relationship with this book. My feelings while reading it went between me wanting to throw my phone into the wall, and crying like a baby.
This was my first book by Jennifer Gold, and while I liked her writing, I didn’t love it. I’m still not sure about the verbal tense that this book was written on, and while some descriptions were amazingly beautiful, the sentiments behind them were not, and that didn’t allow me to look at it with any positive feelings.
I know that was the goal, but still…
One of the main issues I had was with the main character, Clara. Full disclosure here, I never had an eating disorder, I never had any contact with one, so I have no clue if the representation of orthorexia is well done in this book. I thought Clara’s relationship with food was represented as complex, and even though it disturbed me, I understood how she wouldn’t be able to deal that well with some food. With that said, the several mentions to the “thigh gap” made me rage. And it was painful for me to actually read Clara’s reactions to food, and it kept me from enjoying some parts of the book.
My favorite part of this book was Alastair and his relationship with Clara. Again, I wouldn’t be able to tell you if the representation of Alastair is correct, but I’ve read a few reviews that say it is, and it somehow felt true to me. I loved the little boy, I loved his honesty and innocence. To me it seemed like Alastair has asperger syndrome, but that is never mention, and it’s only said that he’s on the autism spectrum, so I’m not sure. I loved how his relationship with Clara developed, and I wish the book had focused a lot more time on that part, because these 2 together were amazing.
That’s another issue I had here, the pacing was off. The first third of the book is spent in NY, with Clara, her mom, her issues, and OMG, I hated that. I understand the importance of outlining how unhealthy her relationship with her mom is at that point, but there was so much unnecessary drama. And the event that propels her to go to Paris? That was ridiculous!
Something else I wasn’t on board with? The romance… So, while in Paris, Clara gets to know Michel, and they develop a relationship, and he tries to “help” her with her issue. Michel is a baker, so he has a strong relationship with food, and I thought his idea of “helping” Clara was all wrong, but that’s just my take. What I definitly could not get was the age difference… Clara is supposed to be 16. Michel is 20! Just explain to me how that is okay? Four years difference is not that much in general, but it is at that age, the difference is maturity is enormous. I didn’t like it at all.
Also, what’s up with the stereotypical ideas of Europe? Guys, I’ve been living in Europe all my live, I’ve been to Paris a few times, and I always had showers. Yeah, we also have bathtubs, but with showerheards.
Moving on. Some things just felt unnecessary in this book. I felt like the romance had no place, I would have rather see Clara finding a true friend, opening up to someone else, developing a healthier relationship with food, than see her being propelled into it by a guy who even though he likes her, judges her all the same.
I hated the way that Clara treated both her parents. First she hardly knows her dad, and it’s mostly because she never gave him the time of day. And then she freezes her mother out. Again, I know the girl has issues, but I think some things should have been addressed.
Overall, it’s an important book because it deals with 2 very important themes: neurodiversity and eating disorders. I just felt like one half of that equation wasn’t dealt with in the best way possible. But again, I’m not the best person to judge representations here. I’m chubby, but I always had a very healthy relationship with food, so…
One thought on “On the Spectrum (Jennifer Gold)”
It sounds like this could have been a good book if there were some major tweaks.