'To Be Honest' is the Body Positive Teen Novel We've Been Waiting For

'To Be Honest', by Maggie Ann Martin.

In the opening scene of To Be Honest, Savannah "Savvy" Alverson is in a dorm room at Indiana State, saying goodbye to her big sister Ashley. Ashley is tall and lanky and adores her little sister very much. Savannah is short and chubby and book smart, has a tendency toward panic attacks, and is totally unprepared for the life she's about to have to lead all on her own now that her sister's off to college.

After their parents' divorce many years ago, Ashley and Savannah's mother was cast on a reality television weight-loss show. She lost an extreme amount of weight and gained an unhealthy obsession with the healthy-living lifestyle. This obsession pushes what might have once been self-care into a selfish narcissism that she constantly takes out on Savannah.

'To Be Honest', by Maggie Ann Martin.

Savannah, however, has an extremely positive body outlook. In fact, apart from her mother's obsession and the pointed remarks that come with it, her size and appearance are almost never a factor in her story; she's just trying to placate her mother long enough to get to college and live her own life.

I cannot tell you how incredibly refreshing this is! I love that the book, itself, is not obsessed with its plus-size main character. Maggie Ann Martin actually allows us to look past Savvy's weight into other aspects of her life, and it's a shame that books like this are so few and far between.

So what else is going on in Savvy's life? Well, George, most importantly. Savannah meets George at her best friend Grace's family cookout. They hit it off, even though their time is cut short by one of Savvy's panic attacks. But that's OK — turns out George is also the new guy at school. He's into music but not great at math, so of course, the universe conspires to get Savannah to tutor him.

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And, of course, they start to fall for each other. George is amazing, but he doesn't think he's good enough. Savannah can't wrap her head around the fact that a great, talented guy is actually falling for her. George and Savannah getting to know each other is possibly the most adorable thing ever! There is so much blushing, on both sides of the equation.

But everything is not gumdrops and roses. Savannah is not handling Ashley's absence very well. She makes some bad, emotionally driven decisions when dealing with her father, which is unfortunate, as her mother's reality show pops back into their lives for a retrospective episode. Things go badly. Savannah's mother's obsession gets worse. Way worse.

The one thing that hit me when I finished this book was: What if Savvy's mom hadn't gone as far as she did? What if she'd stayed just-this-side of selfish, constantly traumatizing her daughter with poison words and actions? How many body-positive young teens are out there today, forced to live through some similar horror show? I only hope they have a Grace on their side, or a George, or an Ashley to help them through it.

To Be Honest is a super sweet book about a young girl who's life is a bit of a mess. But, to be honest, isn't that all of us?

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Alethea Kontis is a voice actress and award-winning author of more than 20 books for children and teens.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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