Saving Ruth by Zoe Fishman
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Publisher: William Morrow
Target audience: Adult fiction
Keywords: eating disorder, college student, racial prejudices, summer
How I found out about it: A pick for Big Kids’ Table
Summary: Ruth is back in the south, on her first summer break since leaving for college in the fall. Life at home is intense, her older brother is distant, and no one can stop commenting on her weight loss (she thinks she looks great, they think she looks too skinny). Even working at the pool isn’t the relief it used to be as judgements begin to surface after a child nearly drowns.
I can remember how weird it was to come home that first summer after being away for 2 semesters. You’re used to so much freedom and all of a sudden you are under the same roof with your parents and the same rules. As for friends, it always took a little while to get back into the swing of things with people you didn’t see that often.
After reading so much YA, it was interesting to read an adult contemporary title about a 19-year old who had some very adult problems. (I actually don’t know why it couldn’t have been classfied as YA.) Ruth is forcing herself to keep a very strict diet and exercise plan. After being an overweight child, she is scared that gaining any ounce will mean she will be right back where she began. When I read about a character with an eating disorder, I’m always curious about what moment would be their breaking point. Despite the comments from her family and friends, Ruth maintains this regiment for a majority of the book. Fishman does a realistic job of painting this girl who was so affected by the people she grew up with and even the small comments made now and then by her parents. No one knew that those small moments could grow to mean so much.
In fact, Ruth is “hired” to help another overweight girl in the neighborhood after her mom sees how “fabulous” Ruth was looking. (Ironic, isn’t it?) I loved the train of thought that came out of these lessons and also the parellels between her and the youngin. That’s the thing about Ruth. She is completely aware of what she is doing. She knows she lacks the knowledge of proper nutrition but even knowing that is not enough for her to put a halt to her behaviors.
A well-done subplot of the novel was also the difficult relationship Ruth had with her brother, David. The once popular/uber successful/soccer star champion is suddenly withdrawn and Ruth has no idea how to get through to him. I was very caught up in their relationship and what might have been David’s problem. (I guessed wrong.) David’s secrets open a can of worms when an emergency occurs at the pool and Ruth is forced to face certain truths about him. Not only that, but prejudices she never encountered start to bubble and force her to see others in her community differently.
Fishman has created a well-written work that manages to weave in various storylines and not pollute the pages with too much of anything. She has a refreshing and simple style that was easy to connect with and I couldn’t put the novel down. (Sidenote: there’s also some romance and I mention that because it’s sweet but also I love how Fishman doesn’t make it bigger than it ought to be.) In fact, I was utterly sad when it was over. In the end this book is about people vying for control of their lives and how that control is so fragile. So it’s also about learning how to let go, go with the flow, and why that isn’t always the easy thing to do.