What THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE Means To Me (A Fat Girl)

I have never felt beautiful, and while there are so many reasons for that in my mind (frizzy hair, nose I don’t like, eyebrows too thick, bad posture), there’s always been one that stuck out the most: I’ve been fat for so long.

To be fair, for most of my high school and even part of college life, I wasn’t fat, I was just not-as-thin-as the girls, both around me and in magazines, who were held up as icons of beauty. My stomach had rolls and if I angled my face down just right, welp, there was my double chin.

I’m fat now. I carry my weight in specific areas on my body and I don’t have a big frame, but I look at myself in the mirror, in pictures taken of me, and it’s clear: I am fat.

So I hated myself for that. Granted, it wasn’t the only thing I hated myself for, but it was a big one. It was especially bad because I’ve always been this huge believer in romance, someone who once believed if I wasn’t married by 19 (why 19? I was reading a lot of historical fiction, okay, it’s fine) my life would have no meaning. And in the books I read, the heroines didn’t look like me. Oh, for sure, they were still white, which is a big issue of representation, and sometimes they even had frizzy hair or noses they didn’t like; but they weren’t fat.

They were never fat.

And so, I bought into the belief that nobody would love a fat girl.

When I was 23, I read DUMPLIN’, a YA novel by Julie Murphy, and it meant everything to me. So much so, I even wrote about it for Bustle. A fat heroine, whose journey isn’t about losing weight, and a love interest who thinks she’s beautiful just the way she is?

Revolutionary.

That’s how I feel about THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE (Simon Pulse, May 14), written by Sandhya Menon, whose previous two YA romcoms are both deliciously sweet, and whom I interviewed two years ago.

From the book’s blurb: “Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat.”

That description hits me because it’s so...multi-dimensional. Sweetie isn’t just a fat character who has no other qualities or personality traits. Her reason for existing as a protagonist isn’t merely to check off a box: yes, the fat character is there, carry on then.

Sweetie is as real a person as she can be while remaining … fictional. In addition to the traits listed above, readers learn within mere pages of the book that Sweetie is a girl with a fraught relationship with her mother; a big factor in what makes their relationship tense is her clothing size.

In a preface to the book, Menon shares that she, while thin at the moment, has in the past been fat. She explained her desire to write, specifically, conversations between Sweetie and her mother in which the teen daughter received this pervasive message that fat is bad, thin is good. No matter how many times Sweetie tries to remind her mother that my body is healthy, my body is strong, I am an athlete and I am good at it and I am not ashamed, her mother cannot or will not hear her.

I asked Menon about this in an interview I sent her, you know — what was it like to write these conversations so many young girls have with their mothers, and to have Sweetie put her foot down and say there’s nothing wrong with being fat?

“I wanted it to be there in very clear terms, in black and white, with no ambiguity, that even mothers have no right to say fat-shaming things to their children,” she answered. “Even if it’s coming from a place of love or fear or desperation, it has everything to do with the messages the parents themselves have internalized and very little to do with reality.”

Although Menon specifically chose to write Sweetie as a South Asian, fat athlete, both to reflect experiences she had and to show South Asian teenagers having the same experiences what it might look like to accept themselves as they are, she acknowledged that communities all around the world struggle to fully accept fat bodies.

“I want to start having these conversations about what it means to be fat and happy in your own skin, and how thin people can be more supportive of their fat loved ones,” she said.

Honestly…these are exactly the kind of conversations I want to start having with my loved ones…and with myself. There were so many moments in the book where I just had to close it (metaphorically…I read it in Kindle format on my phone, so there’s really no “closing,” but you get the picture), close my eyes, and just breathe.

I don’t think there’s a person living in a fat body who hasn’t lived through having someone, be they stranger at the Farmer’s Market or grandparent or close friend or stranger on the Internet, think they had a right to discuss our body: with us, behind our back, as a call-out or an intervention or cloaked with a sheen of concern.

It begins to seem as though everywhere fat people turn there’s a voice telling us we’re disgusting, unworthy, lazy, somehow less-than everyone around.

Every voice which counteracts these negative ones — every fat actor who scores roles that don’t mock fatness; every comedian who’s able to make it through a set without even one fatphobic joke; every fashion brand making plus sizes that don’t cost additional arms and legs; and every author writing about badass fat characters who don’t need to lose the weight to learn they are beautiful, smart, lovable…each of these voices is precious.

I think one thing that makes THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE ring so true to me is because it comes from a place of authenticity for the author. Menon has been there. She has been fat. She has had the conversations Sweetie has to have. She has felt the sting of someone judging her in the street, and the shame that brings, even while questioning why we’re letting someone else’s poor judgement bring us shame.

“All of my fiction thus far has had hints of autobiography,” she said, explaining that each of her characters’ main obstacle are things she herself has worked through. “All of these are deeply personal struggles from my own life, and I wouldn’t know what it feels like to write without pulling from that pool…that level of honesty makes the story feel so much richer and, I think, leads to a more fulfilling storytelling experience for both writer and reader.”

She’s right: there’s something comforting about knowing that the character you’re reading, the one who looks like you and is being hurt like you have been, was written by someone who understands. Someone who, having been through it, won’t be careless in her handling of that hurt, won’t make you hurt again.

At the end of the day, as much as THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE is a powerful book about self-acceptance and body positivity, it’s also a young adult rom-com. And knowing that the author herself had experienced the same things the character goes through makes it easier to read the book with almost a sigh of relief, a knowledge that you’re not going to get your heart broken this time.

And you won’t. The cover doesn’t lie. First of all, it’s a nod to a super adorable scene; but secondly, that joy that sparkles through Sweetie (and her cover model)’s eyes? It’s sprinkled throughout the whole book. It’s uplifting and cute and, simply, adorable.

If you need something to read this summer that is both pure sweetness as well as uplifting and empowering, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE is, really, the perfect choice.

IN ANOTHER LIFE by C.C. Hunter [Blog Tour]

Imagine it: you’re 17, you move to a new city for your senior year of high school, and you meet a boy. The chemistry is electric between the two of you, the connection undeniable. So maybe being the new kid in 12th grade won’t be the worst thing in the world after all, right?

Until he tells you: his foster parents lost a daughter 14 years ago, and you’re the spitting image of the age-progression photos detectives mocked up a while back.

Could it be? Are you…the kidnapped daughter of your new boyfriend’s foster parents?

As Chloe and Cash delve deeper into her adoption, the more things don’t add up, and the more strange things start happening. Why is Chloe’s adoption a secret that people would kill for?

This is the key question that IN ANOTHER LIFE, New York Times bestselling author C.C. Hunter’s newest YA thriller hinges upon. Published yesterday, the novel delves into the mystery of Chloe’s adoption while simultaneously undertaking a look at complicated family dynamics and relationships; delving into questions of how to overcome childhood trauma and whether what we experience as children — and the choices we and our parents make — determines our fate; as well as increasingly life-and-death stakes for our two protagonists.

I was lucky enough to send a few questions to Ms. Hunter for this tour and I’m thrilled to share some of her background and story with you today. The first thing that intrigued me in researching was her name: C.C. Hunter is a pseudonym for Christie Craig, her real name and the one under which she writes humorous romantic suspense novels.

I’d labored for ages under the impression that pseudonyms were chosen to keep identities private or to, at least, separate two identities, that is, keep readers from knowing the same author is writing in both genres; however, it’s made clear on every platform online, that Christie Craig and C.C. Hunter are the same person.

“I was already publishing my humorous romantic suspense novels when an editor asked me to write a young adult paranormal series,” Hunter told me when I asked why this was. “She advised me to use a pseudonym to avoid confusing my readers since it was a different genre.” [You can find C.C. Hunter’s website here.]

Hunter grew up in Alabama, in the deep South, and says, “storytelling was infused in my blood.”

Not only did her grandfather gather her and all her cousins around him to regale them with stories, but dinnertime in her immediate family was also a time for sharing and storytelling.

Courtesy of Wednesday Books

Courtesy of Wednesday Books

“Our dinner table conversations were supposed to be interesting,” Hunter says. “If our day was boring, we had to find some deeper meaning to the mundane events or elaborate to make the conversation more interesting.”

Hunter told me she is dyslexic, meaning she wasn’t much of a reader, she struggled in school, and she didn’t allow herself to dream of being a writer. She couldn’t keep herself from dreaming up stories in her head, though.

“From the time I was about eleven, I would run off by myself into the woods, find a tree to lean on, and I would create stories in my head,” she said. “ Stories of young love and adventure…It wasn’t until I was 23 when my husband asked me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life that I admitted I wrote stories in my head and I wondered if I could learn to put them on paper.  His reply, ‘Just do it,’ was like a challenge.”

It took 10 years to sell her first book, and another 13 years to sell a second: but she persevered, kept at it, and now she’s a bestselling author in multiple genres.

I’m going to tie this back into IN ANOTHER LIFE here, because it’s relevant, even though it might not seem so on the surface. Learning to translate the stories you’ve in your head onto paper after 23 years of believing you can’t do so takes gumption, guts, and incredible fortitude. It’s the kind of thing even I, ambitious and big-dreaming to a fault, don’t know if I could do. It’s incredibly impressive.

I’ve only read one of Hunter’s books (yes, it’s the one I’m discussing for this here blog tour ;)) but I can see that her character, Chloe, possessed similar fortitude. No, not always. She’s a 17-year-old whose life was turned upside down and in reading there were moments I wanted to step into the pages of the book and shake her and just tell her what to do.

But I know from my own experience as a writer, aspects of who we are translate into our protagonists. Our weaknesses and also our strengths. Including, when we have it, our gumption, guts, and fortitude.

I enjoyed IN ANOTHER LIFE in part because, as much as Chloe is scared to learn the truth because it will turn her life upside-down…as scared as she is of confronting people at the beginning of the book…by the end she has grown into a take-no-enemies woman who tells people what she wants and stands her ground. It’s admirable, heroic, and the kind of role model that’s needed.

If you wandered over to Hunter’s website at any point, you might notice her blog page is fairly active and up-to-date. She also releases novels regularly, has a husband, friends…the usual trappings of a life. She explained the value of prioritizing work time, including sometimes saying “no” to fun events…while at the same time realizing that it’s a balance, and sometimes she realizes she’s cutting back on too much social life.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” she offered as one piece of advice to others who may be struggling to find balance. “As I have gotten busier, I have hired an assistant to help me keep up with things…The biggest piece of advice I can offer other authors juggling all things writing related is to not compare yourself to other writers.  Your life is different and only you can set your goals.”

But the biggest thing to remember?

“The most important thing you can do for your career is to write the next book,” Hunter said.

Hey, thanks so much for reading this stop on the IN ANOTHER LIFE blog tour! I hope you’ll click through the link to check out C.C. Hunter’s website, and if you’re intrigued by the sound of the book, you can find the buy link here. Thanks for checking it out!

LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS Will Change And Improve Your Life

Samira Ahmed's debut, LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS is one of those books that doesn't leave your mind after you've consumed it.

I say "consumed" because that's how this book is best read: all at once, inhaled and then savored. It leaves a pleasant taste lingering in the back of your mind, a book hangover but nicer.

According to the synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz can’t wait to graduate from her small town high school. She dreams of studying film in New York City and kissing a boy (or, maybe two). Her parents forbid both. While she wrestles with parental expectations and her own desires, Maya’s world is rocked by a horrifying act of domestic terrorism that ignites an outbreak of Islamophobia that threatens to alter the course of her life forever.

So already I'm feeling this book. I mean, hello, desire to move to New York City and wanting to kiss boys? The book may as well be about me! Well, except for some differences: Maya is into photography and I'm a writer; her parents don't want her to do what she wants and mine were relatively supportive; she's Muslim and I'm Christian. 

These differences between me and Maya really only made me love the book more; there's something delicious, to me, about reading a book that stars someone with core differences but to whom I can still relate on such a deep level.

8F22C274-D97E-4FF3-9D59-F1A31F01F1ED 3.JPG

As I read the book, I was fully captivated by the contemporary YA storyline; when the act of domestic terrorism occurs, I had this fleeting worry that it would change the book. It did; it made it a little darker, a little more real, as Maya has to deal with Islamophobia. But Samira Ahmed does an incredible job at weaving the darkness into the story without letting it overwhelm you, and she planted me squarely in Maya's shoes in a situation I'll never experience but which I feel the emotions of as clearly as if I were living them.

That's what a book is supposed to do; it's supposed to let you live another experience so you can comprehend it better. 

But this book isn't fabulous only because of how Samira handles darkness; it's also a beautiful, romantic tale of passion and dreams. It has lovely moments of lightness to counteract the hard things Maya goes through. 

I'm such a fan of this book, you guys! It was published Jan. 16 (this past Tuesday!) by Soho Teen, and you can order a copy yourself if you feel the desire to read something brilliantly written, emotionally moving, and also just plain adorable.