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Reasons to Be Happy    by Katrina Kittle Amazon.com order for
Reasons to Be Happy
by Katrina Kittle
Order:  USA  Can
Sourcebooks, 2011 (2011)
Softcover

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* *   Reviewed by Lyn Seippel

Thirteen-year-old Hannah Carlisle is the kind of girl who keeps a list of things that make her happy. She loves her life, meets challenges head on, and has varied interests - everything from running to building miniature cities out of trash.

When her mother, a famous actress, gets cancer and Hannah moves to a new school for eighth grade, everything changes. By seeking approval from the popular group, she becomes someone else. Someone who is afraid of everything, and drops everything she loves in an effort to do the right thing.

Hannah's mother is dying while she's hanging out with people who make a sport of being nasty and hurtful to everyone around. She's so unhappy but she can't drop them and they won't drop her. She finds an outlet for her pain. She calls it her secret remedy. She gorges on food of any kind and afterwards forces herself to vomit. The release it gives is addictive. Sometimes she does it two or more times a day.

Bulimia is a scary, dangerous illness. As it progresses, Hannah begins to refer to her secret remedy with a female pronoun. After her mother dies she's sent to spend spring break with her aunt Izzy, a documentary film maker. Izzy was once anorexic and understands what is happening. When Izzy goes to Africa, where she is making a film on orphans, she takes Hannah with her.

Africa has a lot to teach Hannah. Kittle's understanding of bulimia, her juxtaposition of a country of orphans and hunger with our society, and her portrait of Hannah, all result in a powerful story.

2nd Review by Ricki Marking-Camuto:

Katrina Kittle presents a wonderful message in Reasons to Be Happy, but her topic is not one commonly found in middle grade novels. While the main character struggles with fitting in at a new school and being herself while dealing with family problems mostly typical tropes for the genre she also battles a much bigger issue, and this is what sets Reasons to Be Happy apart.

Hannah Carlisle's life is not the best, and it is about to get a lot worse. Both of her parents are movie stars, but while her mom had to quit due to cancer, her dad has just landed the biggest role of his career. Because of the added attention of the media, Hannah starts eight grade at a private school that is more secure than her old public one. On the first day, Hannah is shown around by one of the most popular girls, who slams everything Hannah likes running, rock climbing, and Jasper (the quiet, smart boy who is always playing the piano). Usually, Hannah can speak up for herself, but for some reason, she cannot in front of Brooke.

And then Kevin, her new classmate and her dad's co-star, starts giving her attention and making sly comments about her weight. The first time Hannah throws up, it is because of nerves, but soon she realizes that she can do it to keep her weight down. Within weeks, she is overtaken by bulimia. With her mother's death, her dad is too drunk to notice that his daughter needs help. It is going to take intervention from Aunt Izzy, a recovered anorexic, to even start to get Hannah on the right path and that path leads her somewhere she could never have imagined.

Kittle does a wonderful job getting her message about eating disorders across. In fact, at one point in particular, I thought I was going to have to stop reading because the descriptions of Hannah's binging and purging were making me physically ill. However, shortly after that passage, the story takes an amazing turn and almost turns into another novel altogether as Hannah travels with Aunt Izzy to help with a documentary on African orphanages.

From this point on, the story is fast and fun, and there is the change within Hannah one expects to see in a middle grade novel. However, this disjointedness between the two halves, the jerky pace with the first half, and the major time jump with the last chapter (not to mention a few chronological inconsistancies) really throw the reader for a loop. With some smoothing out of time, this could be an outstanding novel.

Depite the erratic pacing, Katrina Kittle makes her message heard loud and clear. For anyone who might be suffering from some of the same feelings as Hannah, Reasons to Be Happy is a good place to start and grow along with Hannah.

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