Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on May 26th 2015
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Though her job answering advice letters for a popular teen magazine is one many would envy, Plum Kettle is living her life for the future. At three hundred pounds, she does her best to stay invisible and counts the days until a weight-loss surgery will allow her real life to begin. But just before Plum’s day arrives, she meets a group of women who begin to change her perspective and show her just how restrictive her ideal body could be.
“We’re told not to go out by ourselves late at night, not to dress a certain way, not to talk to male strangers, not to lead men on. We take self-defense classes, keep our doors locked, carry pepper spray and rape whistles. The fear of men is ingrained in us from girlhood. Isn’t that a form of terrorism?”
A character who learns to accept who she is, even though she isn’t thin? Feminists who refuse to follow the expectations set by mainstream culture and a vigilante group aimed at justice for women? This is a novel meant to stir up much needed conversation, though it will certainly be polarizing. You can almost hear a refrain of “she was asking for it” in these comments on NPR, proving nearly every point Dietland aims to make: women can only exist in a pre-defined space.
Though the last quarter of the novel feels a little untidy, in that several possible endpoints seem to take away from the impact of the final scenes, Dietland is absolutely worth reading. Sarai Walker turns conventions on their head, which throw the reader completely off mark in amazing ways, while also getting to the honest truth of what it means to be a woman under the gaze of modern society.