Category Archives: Yara Zgheib

Review: The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib

Title: The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 375 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Yara Zgheib’s poetic and poignant debut novel is a haunting portrait of a young woman’s struggle with anorexia on an intimate journey to reclaim her life. 

The chocolate went first, then the cheese, the fries, the ice cream. The bread was more difficult, but if she could just lose a little more weight, perhaps she would make the soloists’ list. Perhaps if she were lighter, danced better, tried harder, she would be good enough. Perhaps if she just ran for one more mile, lost just one more pound.

Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears – imperfection, failure, loneliness – she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.

Every bite causes anxiety. Every flavor induces guilt. And every step Anna takes toward recovery will require strength, endurance, and the support of the girls at 17 Swann Street.

Review:

The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib is a poignant, thoughtful novel about the complexities of overcoming eating disorders.

Twenty-six year old Anna Roux and her husband Matthias are Parisian transplants who now live in St. Louis.  A former ballerina whose career sputtered to a stop following an injury, Anna is now in treatment for anorexia.  At 88 pounds, she is at risk for a multitude of conditions that are life threatening if she does not start eating and put on weight. Her struggle to eat is heart wrenching as she forces herself to comply with treatment. Anna’s daily regimen includes eating the prescribed meals and snacks, a short walk, individual therapy, group therapy and 90 minute visits with Matthias. Anna is reluctant to discuss her complicated relationship with food or her personal life but her occasional honesty is extremely helpful to overcoming anorexia. Will Anna triumph over the disease that affects not only herself, but her loved ones?

Anna’s relationship with food is complicated before she and Matthias relocate to the United States. She is under immense pressure to lose weight in order to keep her position with the ballet company. Before meeting and marrying Matthias, her romance with another man distorts her view of herself due to his less than flattering remarks. Anna is also haunted by tragedies from her childhood.  

Although Anna is happy to accompany Matthias to St. Louis, she finds herself isolated and lonely as she hunts for a job and her husband works long hours.  Anna is soon consumed with calorie counting, avoiding certain food groups and excessive exercise. She barely remembers her old life and her appearance during a Christmas visit to Paris shocks her beloved father and sister. But it is not until months later that Matthias realizes how precarious Anna’s health has become.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street is a captivating novel that does not gloss over the difficulties of treating and overcoming eating disorders. Anna is an extremely sympathetic character whose struggles with body image and weight will resonate with readers. Yara Zgheib offers an insightful and oftentimes, heartbreaking, glimpse into the complicated treatment for eating disorders. The realistic conclusion to Anna’s story is both uplifting and hopeful.  A well-researched, emotionally compelling novel that I absolutely loved and highly recommend.

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Filed under Contemporary, Rated B+, Review, St Martin's Press, The Girls at 17 Swann Street, Women's Fiction, Yara Zgheib