ARC Review: Sad Perfect by Stephanie Elliot

Sad Perfect
Author: Stephanie Elliot
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: February 28, 2017

The story of a teen girl’s struggle with Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder and how love helps her on the road to recovery.
Sixteen-year-old Pea looks normal, but she has a secret: she has Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). It is like having a monster inside of her, one that not only dictates what she can eat, but also causes anxiety, depression, and thoughts that she doesn’t want to have. When she falls crazy-mad in love with Ben, she hides her disorder from him, pretending that she’s fine. At first, everything really does feel like it’s getting better with him around, so she stops taking her anxiety and depression medication. And that’s when the monster really takes over her life. Just as everything seems lost and hopeless, Pea finds in her family, and in Ben, the support and strength she needs to learn that her eating disorder doesn’t have to control her.


I read about 50 pages into this book and stumbled upon a disturbing review about it, as well as the possible effects it would have on potential readers. With that, I’m not wasting anymore time on this harmful, damaging book.

I originally requested this because it seemed like a hopeful story of a mental illness that is newly discovered, offering insight on eating disorders and how to get treatment. From my reading experience, the narrator – using a second person POV – is talking about girl-on-girl hate and insta-love, fantasizing about a boy’s veins and how romantic he is after meeting him once. After reading a review from a reader with an eating disorder, my thoughts were solidified. This book is hurtful and unhealthy, especially towards a potential teen reader who has an eating disorder. Given the fact that the 4 and 5 stars are from readers who haven’t experienced what Pea, the main character, has, I urge you to pay attention to the readers who have experienced an eating disorder and depression, including the malignant representation it has in this book.

From Justina Ireland’s blog, an anonymous review from a reader with purge-restrictive anorexia:

“Sad Perfect” is not just problematic. It’s not just inaccurate. It’s dangerous. The night I first read this book I sat on my bed and sobbed for nearly an hour. I had to give my husband instructions to watch my food intake like a hawk because of how tempted I was to starve myself.

I’ll say this again: the reason I have been so determined to do this review is because I am terrified that a teenager with an ED will pick up this book and that reading it will pose a serious risk to their health.

If you suffer from an ED, especially if you suffer from anorexia or bulimia, I suggest you stop reading this review right now. The quotes I provide are really, very, super triggering, because in order to ingratiate herself with teen sufferers of ARFID, the author of “Sad Perfect” has decided to vilify sufferers of anorexia and bulimia.

Oh, there are other problems too: there’s a total of one PoC and white heteronormativity is held up as beautiful; the love interest is a classic example of you’re-so-special-not-like-all-those-other-girly-girls misogyny; the manuscript is rife with inaccurate, generalised information about EDs and other mental illnesses; and of course the author of the book is not an example of own voices (Elliot’s daughter suffers from ARFID, but she has no ED herself).

That’s enough to tell me that I don’t need to waste my time on this. I don’t need to see for myself how bad it is – these passages are enough in telling me how harmful the book is. I urge you to read that review for yourself. It’s long, but it contains important, necessary words about how this book will be destructive to potential readers.

Pamela from Pamelibrarian addresses the unsafe representation of Pea’s depression, and the way it is addressed in the book in her review as well. There is also a horrible stigma around the mental ward Pea gets sent to as well, which again reinforces ideas that will negatively impact a potential reader’s thoughts.

It all boils down to this: as an author, you have a responsibility toward the teens for whom you are writing. Be a good role model. They are going to look up to you whether you want them to or not. So in your writing, it’s your job to make sure that you are factual, that you are compassionate, and that you provide healthy examples of how to act, not hyped-up scary tactics or the message that you can fix your own brain. I don’t want teens to read this and think that as long as they find a boyfriend or a girlfriend, their depression or anxiety or OCD or self-harm or ED will go away, blasted into oblivion by the power of love. That’s not how it works, and it is irresponsible for Sad Perfect to present this as a path to recovery.

Stay away from this one. From the reviews of people with an eating disorder or depression, their reactions are enough to solidify the harmful effect this book will have.

DNF @ 15%


12 thoughts on “ARC Review: Sad Perfect by Stephanie Elliot

  1. Veronika @ The Regal Critiques says:

    I’m incredibly sad about how problematic this book turned out to be, because I feel like there are so few YA books currently published with MC’s with eating disorders, even though so so so many people suffer from them in real life. They NEED realistic and even empowering representation, not this triggering, problematic mess. I’m SO MAD, and don’t even get me started on the cover portraying the very thing the MC self harms with – putting that on the cover is just wrong.

    Great review!

    Veronika @ The Regal Critiques

    • Aila @ One Way Or An Author says:

      Exactly Veronika, that’s why I decided against putting the cover on my reveal! Like for real, could you be even more insensitive? I’m glad the word is spreading about this book and all the dangers and harms it represents, though, so a future reader with an eating disorder or depression will not pick it up. No one deserves to read such a harmful story.

  2. Maha says:

    oh god! this is so horrible!
    i just don’t know what to say. i wasn’t going to buy/read this book anytime soon, but now i’m DEFINITELY staying away from it. thank you for the review (and for linking to the other reviews). this is one of the main reasons i do believe diverse ARCs should go to the marginalized bloggers/book people concerned. this is just an example. many problematics books are sold out there because it still didn’t get into the hands of the RIGHT person. this is so sad. 💔

    • Aila @ One Way Or An Author says:

      Exactly Maha, I’ve been advocating for more marginalized bloggers/readers to get books that represent their group as well. It’s too bad that publishing, for the most part, ignores these problems and does not try to do anything to fix it (unfortunately). However, I like how the book community is at least spreading the awareness of such harmful books!

  3. Pen & Parchment says:

    Thanks so much for writing this review, and including some other great references. I read through both of the reviews you linked and it’s safe to say that I will never be reading this book! It’s such a shame to see harmful books like this even being published. I’ll make sure to warn others about it! ❤

  4. Zoe says:

    NO! I haven’t heard of this one before, but that’s so sad it was so disappointing. It’s always frustrating when such delicate issues are inaccurately portrayed. Thanks for sharing though and, as always, fabulous review! ❤

  5. Kelly says:

    I managed to get all the way through this one, and while I thought the overall story was good, the whole book just screams trigger warning. I’ve been suffering from depression since I was a teenager, and the fact that there is so much self harming going on in this book was really hard for me, as that’s something that I had dealt with for many, many years. I have to agree – if you have an eating disorder, are depressed, or suffer from self harming behavior (or even if you have in the past), this is definitely not the best book in the world to pick up.

    • Aila @ One Way Or An Author says:

      Honestly Kelly, even the cover was pretty insensitive (which is why I chose not to put it in this review). I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through, and I’d like to just say how strong you are for overcoming it (and actually going through with this book). ❤ I'm definitely telling readers to pick up a more accurate, ownvoices book to go to for representation of eating disorders, depression, or self-harm.

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