Before We Were Blue by EJ Schwartz is a beautifully written contemporary. Shoshana and Rowan are both in the RR eating disorder facility, changing each other’s lives forever.
All quotes are from an Advanced Reader Copy and may or may not reflect the published copy.
Get healthy on their own—or stay sick together?
At Recovery and Relief, a treatment center for girls with eating disorders, the first thing Shoshana Winnick does is attach herself to vibrant but troubled Rowan Parish. Shoshana—a cheerleader on a hit reality TV show—was admitted for starving herself to ensure her growth spurt didn’t ruin her infamous tumbling skills. Rowan, on the other hand, has known anorexia her entire life, thanks to her mother’s “chew and spit” guidance.
Through the drudgery and drama of treatment life, Shoshana and Rowan develop a fierce intimacy—and for Rowan, a budding infatuation, that neither girl expects.
As “Gray Girls,” patients in the center’s Gray plan, Shoshana and Rowan are constantly under the nurses’ watchful eyes. They dream of being Blue, when they will enjoy more freedom and the knowledge that their days at the center are numbered. But going home means separating and returning to all the challenges they left behind. The closer Shoshana and Rowan become, the more they cling to each other—and their destructive patterns. Ultimately, the girls will have to choose: their recovery or their relationship.
“I was like the sky, open and empty, and you swpt in like the ocean, something I wanted to touch, meet, kiss. You’ve reflected myself back to me, gifted me with new questions to figure out who the fuck I am.”
I would like to disclaim that I have suffered from an eating disorder and have since recovered. My perspective of this is written as an Own Voices reviewer for eating disorders.
This book was one of the most beautiful contemporaries I have read in quite some time. Eating disorder treatment-focused contemporaries are one of my guilty pleasures. Schwartz does a fantastic job of not sugar coating the mental illness. She also addresses that the reasons behind them are deeply different for everyone. The diverse identity representation in this book shocked me. I expected this to allude to sapphics, but it has genuine sapphic representation. What surprised me further, was the asexual representation, and the way it was described in which felt well thought out.
“Just like I’ve always believed girls are flowers and boys are bees, I’ve always believed there are multiple people living inside us.”
There are subtle anti-Semitic phrases in this book. The author is Jewish, and I am not, so I don’t feel it’s my place to say anything one way or the other about this. I do want to say that neither character is the most likable, and that is entirely at the fault of their respective mental illnesses. This isn’t to say that people with mental illnesses are not likable. However, eating disorders tend to lean towards being manipulative as a form of self-protection. This angry, protective, keep everyone away but also blame yourself mentality is directly the fault of the disorder- which is the fault of lots of other things. This was represented incredibly realistically and well.
“My body was my first lover, but now it feels more like an ex I can’t get away from.”
The ways both girls went through the recovery system and their journeys were well written. You start off frustrated with Rowan and enjoying Shoshana, and then flipping in the end. Their character development was enjoyable to witness, and experience. I enjoyed the way that Schwartz built up their worlds and slowly unraveled them as time went by. Not all healing stories are linear. Not all healing stories end happily. This book is not for everyone, as Eating Disorders are hard to read about. The people who experience them may frustrate you. However, if you enjoyed Wintergirls or Wasted, I think there’s a chance you’d enjoy this as well.
“I miss her, like an aching bruise that flares up whenever someone touches it.”
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.