Claire Hennessy’s latest novel gets off to a strong start with the introduction of her snarky ghost narrator. Annabel is a recently deceased anorexic teen who has been assigned against her will as a helper (NOT guardian angel) to Julia, who also has a difficult relationship with food. Annabel’s voice is distinctive and fresh, and Hennessy gets in some great quips about her lack of corporality. The other characters are, like Annabel, well drawn and believable. Annabel’s ability to push into the thoughts of different characters gives the reader greater knowledge than Julia, and adds depth. However, as Annabel becomes closer to Julia she finds that her task may be more complicated than she had expected…
I loved the subplot about the school newspaper, seeing its workings and Julia’s passion for journalism. (I LOVE books with school clubs in them, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda with the school musical, Love, Lies and Lemon Pies with the baking club to name but a couple). In some ways writing is an escape for Julia ‘It’s easier to focus on the words on the page than the stories in her own life.’ However, we also see it as something she strives to be good at and to make a difference in. There are a real mix of characters on the newspaper staff, and a budding romance for Julia. The romance element is sweet, and I was glad it didn’t completely take over, that it wasn’t a case of a guy swooping in to save Julia. ‘She is not a damsel in distress waiting for some knight on horseback.’
This is a book that will move and engage readers. There is a strong feminist element to this book, in terms of relationships, careers, self worth and, of course, body image. There’s a line Julia writes: ‘but we don’t talk about the silly things that teenage girls do to themselves.’ It perfectly sums up the misconceptions around eating disorders (and other mental illnesses) that are explored in the book. Julia also wonders at one point ‘Why do they all end up treating you like a silly girl in the end?’ and this book really does tackle how frustrating it can be to not be taken seriously because you are female or to know you will have to work harder to have success in your chosen field. There is also a strong sense of female friendship or sisterhood that develops as the book progresses. This is not present at the start, but as Annabel begins to care for Julia, as Julia’s friendship with Maria develops and as we see Annabel’s friend and sister dealing with the aftermath of her death. ‘There are certain things we owe our little sisters.’ Hennessy exposes some of the most difficult things about being a woman today, while also offering empowering narratives of female friendship.
While Stereotype will always have a special place in my heart, I think Nothing Tastes As Good may well be Hennessy’s best book yet. She deals with difficult issues in a relatable and honest manner, and avoids being preachy or moralising.This is the kind of book teenage girls (and boys) need, a book that challenges the stigma around ‘the silly things that teenage girls do to themselves.’