Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Fat Girl by Marilyn Sachs

Jeff Lyons can’t stand Ellen de Luca, the fat girl in his ceramics class. She’s huge, clumsy, can’t throw a pot to save her life, and stares at Jeff all the time. But he’s a "nice guy" and feels terrible when Ellen overhears his hurtful remarks about her. The "crumbs of kindness" he tosses her way soon turn into advice on weight loss, college, clothes, hair . . . and, to everyone’s surprise, good-looking Jeff actually dumps his pretty girlfriend to be with the fat girl! Re-creating Ellen is a labor of love, Jeff thinks. But as her pounds melt away, Jeff resents the happy, independent young woman he has unleashed. Where is the gratitude for all he’s done for her?

With this darkly ironic take on the classic Pygmalion tale, Marilyn Sachs offers young readers a candid portrayal of what happens when the intoxicating thrill of control is confused with love. (From Goodreads)

While visiting the local thrift store, I came across The Fat Girl by Marilyn Sachs, and snatched it up. I had never heard of the book, but after reading the synopsis, I was intrigued by the concepts of power being confused with love.

Cover: The hands appear to be those of a male as he is creating on a potters wheel. The main character Jeff is introduced as he is trying to transfer into a pottery class. The cover picture can represent the actual pots that Jeff creates, but it also how Jeff thinks he is the creator of who Ellen, the fat girl, has become.

Favorite Line/Quote/Scene: My favorite scene is when Ellen appears before Jeff in her white prom dress. After Jeff has told her what to wear, how to fix hair and make-up, Ellen enters the room in the dress she picked out looking like a girl her age, not a young girl playing dress-up in women's wear. I love this scene, because it is when Ellen begins to stand-up for herself. Jeff has been so manipulative in their relationship and she's ready to put an end to it.

The Fat Girl wasn't what I expected it to be. I had a difficult time understanding Jeff and his motivation. For about the first third of the book, he kept referring to Ellen as "The Fat Girl", even to her face because he couldn't remember her name. He had gone to school with Ellen for years and even had classes with her, how could he not know her name? His inner monologues were consumed with so much disgust for Ellen but I wasn't convinced as to why he was so revolted by her. In an attempt to establish some reasons for his contempt for Ellen, we get a glimpse of Jeff's home life. Jeff's relationship with his mother was conflicted because she was so unhappy and every conversation resulted in a fight.  This lack of power or control and rejection he felt from his mother was transferred into the relationship between Jeff and Ellen. He began to tell her what she should eat, how to exercise, what she should wear, and who should she be friends with.

I think the biggest problem I had with the story was that Jeff actions were so matter of fact. There could have been more character development to help better understand why Jeff choose Ellen to control.  I thought it was easy to understand why Ellen was easily persuaded by Jeff since she had always been the outcast and was craving attention from anyone, no matter how destructive it was.

Random: When I was reading the book, I kept singing Jewel's Fat Boy to myself. The song has always evoked a strong emotion in me because of the story of a boy who doesn't feel comfortable in his own skin, but he puts on a front to hide how sad he really is. I was hoping that this book would have created the same effect. Not so much.

Not So Random: There were times, while reading, that I thought the book was in some sort of a time-warp. The book was published by Flux in 2007, but there were references to Ellen joining Weight Watchers and perming her hair, and the mentioning of Jeff's dad going to prom in 1958 which seemed odd to me. It was only after reading the Afterward that I learned that The Fat Girl was originally published in 1984.


  1. Thanks for the heads up on this cover, Joli. Great review. =) And after reading your thoughts on the novel, I think this was the best cover that sums up what this book is really about.

  2. Don't you just hate it when that happens? Try to help someone and eventually they end up being better people but forget to appreciate the ones that sacrificed more or less to help them out. In my opinion if you strip the book down to it's core you can actually notice that it's a pice of life and something worth learning from. I'll try to find this book at All you can books and read it.

  3. I've never heard of this one, but it makes me think of a couple books I've read somewhat like this that I enjoyed. With his manipulative nature, however, I'm not sure I'd be good for it. Hm . . . I'll think on this one.


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