Saturday, November 1, 2014

Paint Me A Monster

Baskin, Janie.  Paint Me A Monster.  Enslow     2014  352p  $18.95  ISBN 978-1-62324-018-9  hs  Historical fiction  VG-BN

Belonging to a seemingly picture-perfect family, Rinnie (nicknamed after the dog Rin Tin Tin in the movies) has always been the odd one out. She asks awkward questions, blurts out family secrets at inopportune times, and always seems to be the family scapegoat. Her family punishes her by yelling at her, ignoring her, and sending her away to camp. Neglected and unloved, Rinnie punishes herself by restricting her diet until she is skeletal (the family's skeleton in the closet?).

The reader will immediately understand that while Rinnie appears to be an average child of an upper middle
-class family, she is an outcast.  She makes mistakes common to childhood (but uncommon in her family, where appearances take precedence over substance).  As a very young child, Rinnie stole a small charm from the department store.  She told the rabbi who came for dinner about the family's Christmas tree.  She doesn't enjoy summer camp or shopping for clothes.  Rinnie just doesn't fit in.

Rinnie tries to reinvent herself
in order to receive the love and attention she craves.  She renames herself Rinnie, for the dog Rin Tin Tin, who is loved by all and is the symbol of universal approval.  Rinnie (whose true name eventually is completely forgotten by everyone who knows her) climbs the slippery slope of popularity, eventually becoming a cheerleader (generally the pinnacle of teen society).  But it is to no avail.  Rinnie's parents divorce.  Her father takes her brother with him to become part of his new happy family, and she and her sister are left to cope with their mother, who is on a downward spiral of alcoholism, mental illness, and messy relationships with a series of men and marriages. Her sister escapes through schoolwork and trips abroad.  She knows how dreadful her mother has become, and yet she abandons her younger sibling to save herself.

Rinnie and her mother clash.
 Rinnie is helpless to save her mother from self-destruction and desperate to win any sign of approval from the parent left to her.  As her mother sinks further and further into depression, she lashes out with increasing viciousness at Rinnie.  In an era when mental illness went largely untreated and was politely ignored, Rinnie becomes the caretaker of the person who should be taking care of her.  Held to impossible standards, Rinnie retreats into anorexia.  No one in her family circle seems to notice as Rinnie turns into a walking skeleton.

With the help of a school guidance counselor, Rinnie develops a support system and is gently drawn back from the brink of self-destruction. The road to complete recovery will be long, but Rinnie is armed with acute self-perception, and the reader comes away from the novel with the feeling that hers will be a successful journey.

Summary: With the help of the school guidance counselor, Rinnie comes to terms with her dysfunctional family relationships and her battle with eating disorders. 
Anorexia-Fiction, Divorce-Fiction               --Hilary Welliver

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