Ravenous girls by Rebecca Burton

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Known for her YA fiction (see Beyond Evie, 2011), in this award-winning novella Rebecca Burton instead frames her story as an adult looking back on memories of adolescence, in the 1980s. It is Frankie’s voice, remembering as a 14 year-old watching her older sister Justine succumb to anorexia, and trying to find her own sense of self amongst it all. The angst of that period in life will resonate with adults and younger readers alike.

The language is pared back, there are comments and silences, a feeling of so much unsaid. Frankie is always on the edge of crying, unable to express the turmoil within. She is trying to understand what is happening in her family while at the same time dealing with her own sense of grief and insufficiency. When Justine goes into the Eating Disorders Unit, and tosses out an invitation to Frankie to visit, she doesn’t know if it’s a genuine invitation or not, but it becomes a way to fill her holiday time after her best friend Narelle deserts her, moving on with a job and new friends. The time Frankie shares with Justine braiding her hair become a reassuring memory of affection, amidst the aching loneliness she feels.

Frankie seeks out anorexia survivor stories with their uplifting endings. But that is not every anorexic person’s story. Life can be more complicated. Burton’s novella brilliantly captures the frictions within a family, and the unresolved awkwardness between mother, elder daughter and younger daughter. For me, having grown up with two anorexic friends at different times, the heartache in this story just resonates with so much authenticity. I am sure it will have a readership in the YA section as well as for adults.

Rebecca Burton’s Ravenous girls is a well-deserving winner of the inaugural 20/40 Publishing Prize awarded by Finlay Lloyd, 2023.

Themes: Anorexia, Loneliness, Sadness, Identity.

Helen Eddy