My Mad Fat Diary follows Rae’s life for an entire year, and we witness the ups and downs of being a teenager and all the emotions in between.
[Some Spoilers; Mature Audiences]
Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
My Mad Fat Diary follows Rae through a year of her life. We meet her friends, her frenemies, potential love interests, her crazy mother, and her beloved Nan. She attends a private school on scholarship and just got out of the psych ward after having a nervous breakdown.
Starting on January 24, 1989, what will the rest of the year bring for Rae?
I picked up this book ready for some self-deprecating humor and a realistic insight into adolescence. I’d heard great things about the BAFTA nominated T.V. series that’s based on this book. (It’s streaming on HULU now if you want to give it a watch.) In the end, I got much more than I bargained for.
I laughed at the dedication and then the glossary of terms that non-British people might need help with. During the preface, I connected deeply with her last paragraph:
I’m sharing it because these days make me laugh—and because I still see fat girls everywhere labeled as ‘bubbly with a nice personality’. And I suppose I want to tell them (and everyone else) that in the end it’s all OK. You can be fat and nuts and a virgin when you are – 17- and things can still turn out OK.
Then I started the book.
It’s comprised entirely of diary entries. I loved the set up. There’s nothing in between to further explain what happened between the days or dialogue beyond what Rae writes down. It made reading it so easy and quick, but the further I got into the book, the more I found myself not laughing at all, but hurting for Rae.
She’s so unhappy with herself and her body, but she has absolutely NO ONE who is actively supporting her. Her friend Mort lives 45 minutes away, so she can only talk with her by phone, which she has to go out and use since her mom won’t get a landline.
Her mother is so wrapped up in her own life and failed marriages that she doesn’t see her daughter falling apart right in front of her. (Sidenote: this makes the funny part of the dedication not so funny to me anymore.)
Her “best friend” Bethany is completely horrible. She’s so underhanded. She never built Rae up. She systematically tore her down and justified it as “just telling her the truth.”
In the preface, the author lets us know that Bethany is actually the combination of three girls in her life during this time, which makes it worse. Not only did Rae have to deal with one girl that was awful, she had two more?
One of things we learn early on about Rae is her desire to be loved and to be in a relationship. Her desire for acceptance by the opposite sex seems to be the driving factor in her life that determines her self-esteem and worth.
We meet Harry, who Rae really likes, early on the in the diary. He ends up being her first kiss, first boyfriend, and first breakup. He tells her that he felt pressured into dating her, and it really hurts Rae.
However, she goes from Harry straight to a boy named Luke. This begins a trend with Rae. She only sets her sights on boys that are already taken. She pines for them, but realizes nothing can happen because they’ve already got girlfriends and she’s not a threat anyway because she’s fat.
I am happy to play the big fat comic joker cow because it comes easy, and losing weight would take too much hard work, and in the end I just cant risk not being love by people. Pathetic, but true. I’m worried if I get thin no one will like me any more. But then I’m worried that if I stay fat no man will ever love me.
The boy that becomes the focal point for her is Haddock. They’re kindred spirits in a way because he’s also got some issues boiling beneath the surface that we aren’t aware of. He and Rae are good friends, but he has a girlfriend and he seems to be dependent on her. He even goes so far as to tell Rae that he’s not sure he’s Haddock without her.
He becomes the force in Rae’s life that does what no one else can do–give her hope.
Things will get brilliant, I think. For both of us. And things could change like that… (Clicks his fingers.)
Throughout the novel, there are poems that Rae has written, too. They’re honest and most deal with her shortcomings in some way. It can be very hard to read at times, especially when she’s on a tear about herself.
The diary ends very suddenly with Haddock, seemingly manic, telling her that she’s got a pretty face and if she’d just lose a little weight…
Except this time when someone tells her she’d be pretty if she lost a little weight, she actually believes it and wonders if she can.
In the end, and after thinking about this book for a few days, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I’m torn between wanting to hug her and shake her and tell her she deserves so much more than she believes. There is a follow up novel to this one that follows Rae through 1990, but I almost feel like I’ll be trespassing even further into someone’s privacy by reading it. This book is that raw.
I know one thing for sure; it takes a certain kind of courage to expose your innermost thoughts this way. There are so many young readers and adults who will connect with this book for that alone.
Many thanks to the publisher for the advanced copy of this novel.