by Elena Dunkle & Clare B. Dunkle
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Chronicle Books (May 19, 2015)
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Seventeen-year-old Elena is vanishing. Every day means renewed determination, so every day means fewer calories. This is the story of a girl whose armor against anxiety becomes artillery against herself as she battles on both sides of a lose-lose war in a struggle with anorexia. Told entirely from Elena's perspective over a five-year period and cowritten with her mother, award-winning author Clare B. Dunkle, Elena's memoir is a fascinating and intimate look at a deadly disease, and a must read for anyone who knows someone suffering from an eating disorder.
It seems almost impossible to describe the voice in your head when you have an Eating Disorder. The voice is disembodied, but it seems more tangible than a book in your hands or the food sitting on a plate in front of you. That voice fills up the space in your mind and takes away the silence and peace that you’ve worked so hard to achieve. It tells you all of the things you hate most about yourself and drills them into your subconscious, and the worst part is that you believe every insult it throws at you.
Elena Dunkle’s memoir, Elena Vanishing, is the first book that I’ve ever read that gives a completely honest picture of how hard it is to accept that there is a problem and that help is needed. The authors' note at the beginning of the novel states that Elena’s story is true, but that there are fictional aspects to the story. Does that sound contradictory? Of course, but so is life with an eating disorder. But the main point of that disclaimer is to recognize how impairing an eating disorder can be and how many memories and moments are distorted through the disease. So when venturing into reading this, remember that parts are embellished based on Elena’s experience. Instead of taking away from the narrative, I believe that these parts make the story even more powerful.
The writing is superb, and Elena acknowledges that the majority of the writing was actually completed by her mother, Clare, but that the collaborative effort was intense and brought them closer together. Be aware that this story is very painful. There are a lot of family issues explored, self esteem, depression, self harm, obsessive compulsive disorder, and a lot more on top of the eating disorder. By no means is the narrative overwhelming, the Dunkles did a fantastic job of displaying the harrowing details of their experience with Anorexia without being too overwhelming. The pacing is excellent and at no point did the narrative lag.
While I find this memoir to have been comforting due to feeling like someone finally put words on a page to describe my struggle, please be aware that stories like these can also be triggering for some who are struggling with eating disorders. I firmly encourage you to reach out to your primary care physician or therapist if you are having trouble. Elena states in the memoir: getting help saved her life. It saved mine. It can save yours.
For more information about eating disorders and treatment options please visit the National Eating Disorder Association.
Don't miss the companion novel, written from Elena's mother's point of view!
Clare Dunkle seemed to have an ideal life—two beautiful, high-achieving teenage daughters, a loving husband, and a satisfying and successful career as a children's book novelist. But it's when you let down your guard that the ax falls. Just after one daughter successfully conquered her depression, another daughter developed a life-threatening eating disorder. Co-published with Elena Vanishing, the memoir of her daughter, this is the story—told in brave, beautifully written, and unflinchingly honest prose—of one family's fight against a deadly disease, from an often ignored but important perspective: the mother of the anorexic.