Review | Hungry Heart, Jennifer Weiner

16130440If you enjoy Jennifer Weiner’s books or tweets, you’ll likely also enjoy her memoir Hungry Heart. Written with her characteristic warmth and humour, Hungry Heart is a light-hearted and moving collection of vignettes, told with a wryness that reminds me of Nora Ephron, chronicling Weiner’s life. There are some real gems within this memoir, and passages that many women may relate to.

My personal favourite was the story around her first book Good in Bed, about a plus size heroine whose journalist ex-boyfriend writes about her in his column. Weiner’s description struck home for me:

What if he basically outs you as the fat girl to the entire reading universe and uses your insecurities as fodder for his columns, so you’re not only alone and heartbroken, but ashamed? [p.171]

What I loved most about the plot Weiner describes is that her heroine, Cannie Shapiro, is okay after the breakup, that it isn’t the guy dumping her that breaks her heart, but rather having her insecurities exposed to the public. Weiner goes on to write about how the first agent who offered to pitch her manuscript requested changes to the story, including making the heroine only fifteen pounds overweight, or as the agent called it, “normal fat,” and shifting the focus away from the heroine’s sex life. Weiner’s responses echo the same pet peeves I have with many romance fiction titles, where there is a sad dearth of stories about actually plus size women. I remember a romance book I read in high school where the hero’s hands spanned the heroine’s waist with room to spare, and a friend and I were laughing about how it’ll take multiple heroes’ hands to span our own waists. It was to that high school reader in me that Weiner’s chapter spoke the most, and when she decides to find another agent who’ll take the heroine as-is, I almost cheered out loud. Then came the following passage:

Who did I write this book for? That one, I knew how to answer. I’d written it for me, and girls and young women like me. My girls: the ones who wouldn’t lose fifteen pounds and fit into a bikini, the ones who were always hearing You’ve got a great personality or You have such a pretty face. The purse-minders, the wallflowers; the ones the wing-man who’d agreed to “take one for the team” took home from the bar. The ones who hardly ever saw themselves — their physical selves — reflected in stories where the heroine got the guy, the job, the money, the power, the happy ending. Maybe there’d never been a bestseller with a girl like that as its star…but what if there had been? What difference could that have made in my life, the way I saw the world, and what I let myself hope for within it? [p.183-184]

You know those scenes in movies, after the protagonist gives the climactic speech and everyone around them is all fired up and slightly teary eyed with emotion? That was me while reading that passage. I remember being at a food court in a mall, reading that passage, getting teary eyed and doing my best not to leap into the air and scream “Yes!”

Hungry Heart spoke to me, as I’m sure Weiner’s books and tweets speak to her millions of fans worldwide. I loved reading about her childhood and her family — her mother is hilarious, her Nanna is adorable (the story about her cameo in the movie of In Her Shoes is awesome!), and the chapter near the end about her estranged father was very moving. I also loved reading about her adventures in writing, and the insecurities she faced while fighting to keep her vision for her books intact. It’s a fantastic read, and I’ll end this review with another of my favourite passages from the book:

I give fat women happy endings. And in today’s America, that right there is a political, even a radical act. [p. 240]

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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