On the Spectrum is a book about family, our own personal struggles, and the importance of support. Among my highlights in this book were Clara’s family, her half-brother Alastair, and the descriptions of food.
Clara’s mother, the famous ballerina, has always stressed nutrition and discipline. She grew up weighing her food and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but now, at age sixteen, she has been diagnosed with orthorexia: an unhealthy obsession with ‘healthy’ food. To escape a social media scandal, Clara decides to spend her summer in Paris with her estranged dad, half-brother who is on the Autism spectrum, and her eccentric step-mother. But Paris has more to offer than just gorgeous sights, introducing Clara to her first love and those who live for the pleasure of eating.
Straight from the gates, you are struck with Clara’s orthorexia and the causes of it. Making the connection between mother and daughter clear, Gold illustrates how we can inherit the problems of our parents. In a mixture of culture and profession, Clara’s mother merely passes on the tendencies and obsessions to her daughter. This results in Clara’s diagnosis, which catapults them both into a cycle of recovery, as they take a closer look at their relationship to food.
Enter onto the stage, Clara’s family in Paris. They are a bundle of wonderful characters, beginning with her half-brother Alastair. Alastair may be my favorite character because he is tender, innocent, and wise. The whole book I wanted to wrap him in my arms. Clara’s step-mother, Mags, is also an interesting character because she is a Norse mythology professor, and genuinely struggles with a balance between the ‘right’ thing and being accepted. Their relationship is one of the most rewarding ones to witness, after Alastair and the relationship Clara has with her mother.
Clara’s journey is one of denial, admittance, and steps towards recovery. There is no quick answer and I enjoyed that her ‘love interest’ was not the cure for her relationship to food. Both she and Alastair deal with their ‘disorders on the spectrum’ (a synopsis from one of their conversations about her eating disorder and his Autism) throughout the book in a supportive way. Clara tries to teach Alastair about the balance between fitting in and standing out, while Alastair, in his own way, gives Clara the support and facts. This is an important theme throughout the book, to celebrate your difference and acknowledge that it’s okay to want to fit in as well.
The Love Story
One of the things I had mixed feelings about was her love interest, Michel. You can tell from miles away, even in New York, that there was going to be one. On the one hand, I love Michel’s genuine appreciation for food and the pleasure of eating. On the other hand, I felt like Michel pushes Clara. I do not only mean to try to eat food, but from the very get go he says things along the lines of, “I’ll help you” before he even really knows what’s wrong. However, my personality is just not one of those for summer flings. I am hard wired to not be able to handle them personally, so this aspect is one of the lesser ones in my opinion. Despite this, it’s not the focus of the novel, so it didn’t detract in a major way from my enjoyment.
Speaking of food though, the food described here is fascinating because it oscillates from food as the enemy, to food as pleasure. The descriptions, even for Clara alone, were interesting to read as her relationship to the actual food changes throughout the book. Additionally, getting to ‘see’ parts of Paris and use my elementary French was an added treat.
What makes this book so precious is not only Clara’s own personal struggle, but her transformation of her relationships with her family. It is, even though it doesn’t seem that way from the synopsis, a family ‘drama’ novel. They learn all sorts of lessons from Mags, to Clara’s mother and the ending is a satisfyingly open one. This is a book where we must accept our own weaknesses, take a closer look at our family support, and realize that recovery is a journey. This book celebrates that love of all forms serves as a beacon of hope and that while we can try to recover on our own, it is okay to ask and accept help.
Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.
Whats your favorite book with a city in it? Bonus points if it’s your favorite city too!
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