**Thank you to Second Story Press, who provided me with an e-ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**
Details & Summary:
I requested this book for two reasons: one, because it features a character with orthorexia and one who’s on the autism spectrum and I wondered how the author had dealt with these difficult subjects and, two, because it hinted at a romance in Paris. Who doesn’t love a romance in Paris? Apparently, me. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed reading this book, but the romance was the weakest part of the book.
When Clara is the subject of a Twitter scandal, she moves to Paris to live with her dad, his new wife (Meg), and her little brother, Alistair. Alistair is “on the spectrum” and she has a hard time adjusting to him. In the beginning, Clara gets frustrated with his inability to understand jokes, his bluntness, and his “odd” behaviour. I’ve never read a book with an autistic character (or someone who’s on the spectrum) nor do I know a lot about it, so it’s hard for me to judge the representation. Having said that, I had the feeling Alistair was a bit too stereotypical. He had all the “characteristics” you’ll find when doing a Google search. As a result, he sometimes felt more like a walking representation of what we all expect autism to look like rather than presenting us with the reality. As I’ve said, I’m no expert whatsoever so I could be wrong. I’m just saying the representation felt “off” sometimes, but (to my knowledge) isn’t hurtful.
The same thing could be said about Clara and the representation of orthorexia. I have more knowledge on this subject, so I feel better reviewing this one. First off, I want to say I’m glad orthorexia is the attention it deserves. There are plenty of books on all eating disorders, but not on orthorexia, which often isn’t considered to be one. Like Clara in the book, many people think there’s nothing wrong with eating healthy, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. Orthorexia is just as dangerous when eating healthy becomes an obsession, as it did for Clara. Gold did a good job of showing just how obsessive you can get when you’re suffering from this disorder through Clara’s thoughts. She’s constantly worried about the health benefits of certain foods, she judges other people for their choices, she can’t / is afraid to eat “forbidden” foods, etc.
Having said that, I wasn’t totally convinced orthorexia was “the right choice”. Clara’s mum is a famous dancer and struggles with an eating disorder herself. From the age of four, Clara is basically told never “to get fat”. Throughout the book, Clara is also more occupied with being skinny (e.g. she’s desperate to have a thigh gap) rather than being healthy. Anorexia and not orthorexia would, therefore, have been a much more “logical” choice. Again, I could be wrong, but Gold never explored the reasons behind Clara’s eating disorder. Everyone wanted to cure Clara, but very little time was spent trying to solve the underlying issues. This is crucial for recovery, which is why I was really disappointed to see it wasn’t addressed at all.
The romance was another disappointment for me. To be honest, it was completely rushed and unnecessary. Clara and Michel meet, they talk for a bit, and suddenly they’re going on a date, and they’re kissing. Gold just didn’t spend enough time on their connection or the development of their relationship which made their romance unbelievable and, frankly, a case of insta-love.
Lastly, the pacing of the story could’ve been better. The beginning is rather slow and the ending is rushed. In the last twenty to thirty pages, everything goes wrong, is promptly fixed, and then it ends.
I believe Gold wanted to present the reader with a thoughtful exploration of autism and orthorexia, but, in the end, On The Spectrum fell short due to an unnecessary romance subplot, bad pacing, and a lack of depth. However, I admire Jennifer Gold for tackling difficult subject matters and trying to give them the attention they deserve. As such, I recommend it to people who know very little about what orthorexia looks like in the hope they might learn from it and recognise the behaviour when they see it.