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Hungry Heart, A memoir of consuming beauty

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Subtitled “Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing,” Jennifer Weiner’s new book of essays, Hungry Heart, pinpoints the reasons for her immense popularity as a writer. One plus is her engaging personality, someone (I think) any woman would value as a best friend. Another plus is her unblinking honesty. Weiner looks at herself without blinders or rose-colored glasses, just as she looks at her family and her career with an unflinching eye. These essays tell the truth, even when uncomfortable. A third plus is Weiner’s tone, her sense of irony and her light-hearted satirical assessment of her world. Her lampoons strike their marks with deadly accuracy, but all the while they make the reader laugh.

Weiner has had a rewarding career as a writer of upbeat novels about overweight women leading successful professional and happy personal lives. As she explains in Hungry Heart’s opening essay, Women’s stories matter, they tell us who we are; they give us places to explore our problems, to try on identities and imagine happy endings.  They entertain us; they divert us, they comfort us when we’re lonely or alone. Women’s stories matter. And women matter, too.”  For Weiner, fat women especially matter. She makes them beautiful, just as she makes her narrative voice so attractive in Hungry Heart.

Roughly chronological, Weiner’s essays introduce her as a little girl growing up too large and feeling shy about her looks. Different perceived traumas generate various childhood and teenage responses until her freshman year at Princeton encapsulates the circular pattern that has followed her for years. Whenever she is troubled, Weiner eats. A lot. She comes to realize, however, that life is good. So she finally chooses not to dwell too long on what is wrong, but rather to write about what is right. The result, she explains, is her first novel, Good in Bed. When an agent wanted Weiner to retitle the manuscript, Big Girl, Weiner balked. No overweight woman wants to be seen carrying a Big Girl book. Good in Bed, absolutely; Big Girl, not seductive at all.

Weiner goes on to write about her other successful publications. In Her Shoes not only sold well, but was made into a very funny film starring Toni Colette, Brooke Smith, and Shirley MacLaine.  The Littlest Bigfoot, a children’s book originally written for her youngest daughter, led to several more popular Bigfoot stories. Weiner writes about her pregnancies, too, and courtship and marriage and the course of her career. From journalist to budding novelist to best-seller fame, Weiner shares her experiences, the highs and the lows. Despite many roller coaster moments, her present life sounds happy, and that’s what she wants to convey to her readers.

The final Hungry Heart essay replicates a letter to Weiner’s daughters. First printed in Time, it speaks universally and captures the underlying philosophy of how to happily be yourself.  Weiner chastises those who would “reduce you to a body, instead of seeing you as a person.”  She goes on to offer a prayer, “that you’ll never lose sight of yourselves—all of yourselves. You are so much more than just your looks.” And finally, “every single part of you is perfect.” This is Weiner’s gift to all her readers, a valuable life lesson for us all.   –  Ann Ronald

Also available by Jennifer Weiner: Good in Bed; All Fall Down; Then Came You; The Next Best Thing; Goodnight Nobody; Who Do You Love; Certain Girls; Little Earthquakes; In Her Shoes

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