by Adrienne Maria Vrettos
240 pages,
ISBN: 141690655X

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Review of Skin
by M. Wayne Cunningham

Reviewed from an uncorrected proof.
Adrienne Maria Vrettos's intriguing debut novel, Skin, depicts teenage angst with a capital A. In it 14-year-old eighth grader, Donnie LePlant, suffers through a miles-long list of anxieties. His parents, for example, argue and shout so loudly that he and his 16-year-old sister, Karen, have to leave the house to huddle in the cold on the porch. He suffers from a recurring ear infection. His best buddies, Chris and Bean, inexplicably turn against him, refusing even to talk to him in the school cafeteria. Girls, and in fact most people he knows, simply ignore him. So he fantasises about sexual encounters with his sister's best friend and neighbour, Amanda. But not only does Amanda treat him like a kid, she openly castigates him when she learns via the town's teenage telegraph that he has been falsely bragging to his buds about his sexual conquests with her. But most important, and this is the real glue of the story, is his reaction to Karen's wilful transformation into a skin-and-bones, full-blown anorexic¨a situation readers know about right from Donnie's first sentence in the powerful, heart-grabbing prologue to the novel.
As the novel unwinds the threads from the prologue, Donnie struggles with his angst, at times hating his Dad for leaving home, at other times criticising his Mom for her nit-picking ways, and always worrying about why he's ostracised by his peers. While he comes to grips with his sister's losing battle with her condition, she turns family meals into battle zones. She rejects food, regurgitates anything that she's coaxed into eating and stashes her calorie-counting journals in the most unlikely of places. She shuns Amanda's offers of assistance, physically battles her parents' efforts to force her into a rehab centre, and tells her brother it's time "that you write the book of Donnie". It's a tribute to Vrettos that the story, as sensitive and poignant as it is, never slips into the maudlin¨not even when Donnie agonises over his conflicted feelings for Karen, Amanda, his lost friends and his warring parents. In fact, much of the dialogue and sidebar stories, such as Donnie's escapist fantasies and his deliberate attempts to fade into invisibility, especially when dealing with a pair of British-born East Indian twins, Karen and Rodney, are quite funny. And despite the overall seriousness of Karen's anorexia, the novel clips right along because of its reliance on dialogue, short chapters and hard-hitting emotional impact. Skin is written with consummate skill and the empathy and understanding necessary for such a delicate and disturbing subject. It deserves a wide readership. ˛

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