CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 9. . . .November 4, 2016
Small Displays of Chaos.
Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2016.
102 pp., trade pbk., $12.95.
Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Chasity Findlay.
Rayanne has never liked people looking at her. She’d hide behind her classmates at Christmas recitals, would turn beet red at every Happy Birthday sung in her honour, and avoided cameras at all costs; she even attempted to skip picture day twice.
Still, as a young girl, there’d always been something special about a dress. They were pretty and soft and they meant she was going somewhere exciting. Of course, by the end of the night, five-year-old Rayanne was inevitably tucked away in some corner, trying with all her might to tear her annoying pairs of tights off her legs.
As she stood in Jenny’s Bridal near the end of October, Rayanne was certain she’d never hated a piece of clothing more in her entire life.
The saleslady, Maureen, had the coldest hands Ray had ever felt, aside from her own. She could feel each brush of the woman’s skin against her back as she laced up the bodice of the bridesmaid dress. Rayanne perched studiously, clasping the front of the bodice to her chest with shaky hands.
There was a mirror in front of them. Rayanne stared at her feet.
“See, this is why this bodice is so handy,” Maureen said. “No alteration. You just pull—” she tugged violently at the ribbon. Ray jerked and Edie took a sharp inhale. “Until it fits.”
She tied the bow and stepped back. Behind Ray, on the couches, were Tatiana and the rest of her bridesmaids. Ray could feel their eyes like ants across her skin.
“Well come on, give us a twirl!” Maureen demanded, and Ray turned slowly on the spot.
Relief rushed through her when the action was met with appreciate sighs. Tensing, she glanced in the mirror. The bodice was pulled tight around her rib cage, and her collar bones were stark beneath the store’s washed-out lighting.
She put up with her mother’s insistence to twirl the skirt, and Maureen’s tendency to reach out and tug at the fabric. While Tatiana talked things over with her Maid of Honour and mother, frantic about the skirt length, Ray felt beads of sweat begin to develop of her forehead.
90 pounds, Edie reminded her.
I’m five away.
Five pounds? Might as well be fifty. The drop of the fabric shows the fat on your stomach. See? Edie sneered. Rayanne looked in the mirror. She saw.
Jesus, look at you—sweating bullets. You can barely handle a dozen people looking at you, how are you going to handle a whole wedding ceremony?
Small Displays of Chaos centres on 17-year-old Rayanne Timko, a high school senior who is struggling with anorexia nervosa. Rayanne has a new “friend” Edie, a voice in her head constantly telling her that she is worthless, not good enough, and not skinny enough. After participating in a heath project for Physical Education class where she kept a food and activities journal, Ray starts to enjoy the control of the ritual far too much. She begins to take things to a whole new level—over-exercising, restricting calories, obsessing over being thinner and reaching her goal weight, and then, eventually, starving herself and purging.
Rayanne’s thoughts and behaviours start to take their toll on her relationships with friends and family and become extremely dangerous to her health. Her parents care about her a lot and want to help her, but they are having a hard time understanding her experience. She finds a sense of peace with her friend Josh and during her time volunteering at a dog shelter, but Edie’s voice is becoming too strong for Rayanne to ignore. She tries to hold it all together until the chaos threatens to overtake her life.
Small Displays of Chaos is author Breanna Fischer’s first novel. It is based on her own experiences after being diagnosed with anorexia. She has also written a short script inspired by a scene from Small Displays of Chaos, which was produced and made into a short film in 2015.
This book presents some serious and important themes that are relevant to teens’ lives. Small Displays of Chaos explores the ideas of identity, family relationships, anxiety, self-harm, and eating disorders. The depth of Rayanne’s thoughts and behaviours is strong in providing a detailed picture of what a person suffering with the disease might be experiencing. This amount of detail will allow young readers to make connections as well as develop understanding and empathy toward Rayanne’s experiences and those of people they may know in their own lives.
Although I believe that Rayanne’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences were well-detailed, I feel that some other characters and plot points could have been developed further to deepen readers’ understanding and engagement with the text. Some examples include Rayanne’s relationship with her friend Josh, her experiences at the dog shelter, and her relationships with her sisters. Additionally, I think it would have been beneficial if Edie had appeared more frequently in the book to show just how debilitating her existence was to Rayanne and to drive home this point to young readers. It would be difficult to develop all of these aspects in the 102 pages of the text, and, for this reason, I feel that the book could have been expanded slightly to develop these elements further, or some of the aspects could have been removed to allow readers to focus on the most important details.
I think this book will appeal to its target audience of young adult readers. The high-interest material and relatable subject matter are likely to connect with readers who are battling some of the same issues that Rayanne is, and the book will help others see the experiences of their friends and other people they interact with in the world. The relatively short length of the book and engaging plot will allow readers to gain an understanding of a person battling anorexia nervosa in a short period of time, aspects which will appeal to both reluctant readers and those looking for a quick read on the subject. The detailed narration of Rayanne’s experience is likely to appeal to young readers and allow them to think about ways to seek help if they are going through a similar experience or to be there for a friend or family member who might be. Small Displays of Chaos is an engaging and true-to-life read that would be a good addition to any high school or home library.
Chasity Findlay is a high school English teacher and a graduate student at the University of Manitoba.
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