Rachelle is training for a marathon. That’s all she cares about, that’s all that’s important. She’s no longer the girl she saw in the mirrors for the last twenty odd years of life. But when a spill on the treadmill threatens her running progress, everything begins to crash down around her. Is there more to health and happiness than food, weight, and exercise?
What is You’ll Never Know about?
The third installment in the Health and Happiness Society books, this novel focuses on the next member of the society, Rachelle. Introduced in the first book and left a one dimensional “fat girl” there, Rachelle is now introduced as a full fledged member of the Health and Happiness Society. Unlike Lexie, the first book’s narrator seeking to improve her health while still young, and Megan, the second narrator who sought fulfillment outside of her career, Rachelle doesn’t know what she’s looking for. She lost over a hundred pounds and was still unfulfilled. She trained for a marathon and then sprained her ankle. Unemployed, a college dropout, and totally lost, Rachelle is forced to confront the demons of her life in this book.
Genre: Contemporary fiction, “women’s lit”
This whole series has seemed to be about telling the stories of women who aren’t happy and how they seek that happiness. For Rachelle, this takes a deep dive into her mental and emotional health since she has already tackled and conquered her physical health. I’ll discuss this more later, but I admire the portrayal of mental health and how it’s a process improving that.
Tropes: Food = Crutch
I’m planning on making a post about this separately, but after the relief that was the second book in the series we’re back to some fatphobic portrayals of food and overeating. Rachelle is no longer in dieting mayhem and instead eats healthy on a regular basis. But she does explicitly fear sugary snacks and the effect they may have on her, namely making her gain weight. While a lot more of the mental health implications of finding comfort in food are discussed, there are still some missteps in how that portrayal comes out of the narrator’s mouth.
Plot: Happiness is a bumpy road
This book is not a clean cut, end goal, action building up kind of story. Instead, it portrays the venture into mental examination and mental health that Rachelle embarks on. The road is bumpy and brings up a lot of emotion and conflict for her, as well as showing that her recovery is not a simple or easy process.
As seems to be the theme of this series, this book does go a long way in discussing mental health and happiness and how important these things can be. Rachelle’s journey is not an easy one and many of the things she struggles with are difficult and terrifying. She clearly has need of learning self love, and in the course of the novel begins to learn how to form habits of self love as advised by a therapist. I also appreciated that an early lesson of the book is that losing weight, getting healthy, and whatnot is not necessarily going to solve all of your problems in life.
The portrayal of mental health was better than the portrayal of physical health in the first book of this series, so it’s clear the author began to do more research and consideration in this phase of the series. That being said, the repeated rehashing of the same issues Rachelle is grappling with and the pace at which she has “breakthroughs” and revelations about herself felt a bit disjointed, as though the author was getting stuck and introducing a new element to just move the writing along. There was also a lot of telling and not showing, such as Rachelle not being capable until she’s been told she will be. A lot of Rachelle’s personality is told to us by her and by others, and not demonstrated due to her strange mental state at the moment of the novel.
Once again the portrayal of “fatness” in these books is…not great. I’ll go more in depth in a spoiler warned post later, but for what’s spoiler-free and relevant to this book here: fatness narratives are not the same for everyone. Thus far, the comfort of food has been portrayed as the same for our two fat characters–Lexie in book one and Rachelle in this book. Both of them are portrayed has having a negative relationship with junk food in which they take comfort in eating overlarge amounts of food. When they get “healthy” they are similarly shown to give up a lot of foods that they really enjoy, and constantly griping about how they don’t want to indulge even once at the risk of suddenly putting on hundreds of pounds. I feel that these portrayals are based on a misunderstanding of how comfort eating, fatness, and obesity work and mistakenly conflates the three. Rachelle is portrayed as only being fat because she was allowed to eat too much junk food as a child due to it being a coping mechanism. She is admittedly not happy just because she’s thinner now, but she is also so petrified of being fat again that it detriments her health, physically and mentally.
Aside from some of the issues, I once again saw value in the underlying point of this book. Rachelle couldn’t find happiness in food, or boys, or alcohol, or exercise, or even being thin. Arguably, by the end of the book she hasn’t found happiness but instead found a path to happiness. This is a lot more realistic than a narrative of “oh look how much better my life is now that I weigh less!” I also appreciated that despite her hesitance to join in on therapy, Rachelle does give honesty and time to the therapist in acknowledgement. The heavy topics addressed in this book, though, aren’t covered to their full extent. Things are often glossed over in a phone call description, or touched on for a single moment then skipped off of by nature of an event in the book’s plot. There were a lot of half-formed ideas of health and happiness that were almost poignant but pulled away at the last second, leaving them ill-advised. It was a frustrating back and forth of “wow that’s a good point” and “oh my god no.” Complicated, but with a critical eye still enjoyable.