7 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

Title: Hunger

Author: Jackie Morse Kessler

Genre: Fantasy YA

“Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world.”

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home: her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power — and the courage to battle her own inner demons?

Publisher: Harcourt Graphia
Publication Date: October 18 2010
Paperback: 180 pages

Stand alone or series: First in a 4 book series about the Horsemen (or people) of the Apocalypse

Why did I read this book: I am a fan of Kessler’s books.

How did I get this book: Downloaded an ARC from NetGalley


Hunger is the story about an anorexic girl, Lisabeth, who is appointed by Death to become Famine, one of the four Horsepeople of the Apocalypse. It happens on the night that Lisabeth has tried to kill herself and Death – who just happens to look like Kurt Cobain – offers her a choice: to die as she intended to or to become one of his Riders. She picks the latter. And what at first seemed to be a very crazy dream soon turns out to be the stark reality and Lisabeth has no choice but to take over the Office and do whatever it is that Famine does. In the course of learning her new duties Lisabeth comes to realise the truth about herself, something that she has been denying over and again even after her best friend, family and beloved boyfriend confronted her: that she is anorexic and needs help.

When I first heard about Hunger my reaction was a mixture of excitement over the premise and wariness at how a potentially problematic topic such as anorexia would be addressed and executed. My fear was somewhat assuaged once I learnt that the author had a personal history with anorexia which I hoped, would add a degree of responsibility to the writing of this story.

And the result is a very good book that, in my opinion, does address the topic of anorexia carefully and with the consideration that it deserves; that explores how the disease works (almost too graphically); how it affects the person suffering from it and their friends and family. It is important to note though, that my assessment is coloured by ignorance and it comes from a comfortable place, from someone who hasn’t had any contact with anyone suffering from any eating disorder and who only knows about it from reading articles. I expect that to the reader who has a personal history with anorexia or other eating disorders the reaction to the story and how anorexia is portrayed might well be a different one.

I did appreciate that to be the embodiment of Famine, Lisabeth had to learn everything about hunger and that helped her understand her problems. I also very much enjoyed her relationships with those around her including her supportive boyfriend and her parents. Her family was definitely messed up with her father being a control freak and the mother an overachiever, both adding stress and pressure to Lisabeth’s life which I believe might be part of the problem and explain her motivations as subtle as they were. My favourite thing though was the denouement of the novel with regards to the anorexia and how nothing was magically resolved which was something I feared due to the fantasy elements of the novel.

Having said all that, I was fairly disappointed with those elements or rather with what I perceive to a lack of depth. To start with the idea of Death going around recruiting new members for the Apocalypse gang was pretty cool, especially in the way that Death was portrayed as a funny character, he definitely cracked me up every time. I enjoyed seeing the other Horsepeople and I think that Jackie Kessler added an interesting twist with the premise that each of them had the potential to be its opposite, i.e. Famine could also stop Hunger; Pestilence could also avoid the world to be overtaken with it. It wouldn’t much of a stretch to say that Death could also be the embodiment of Life (and I think this would fit perfectly with how he reacted to Lisabeth’s final decision). But at the same time: why would they? Why would the Horsepeople of the freaking Apocalypse be doing stuff to prevent it? Why did Death chose Lisabeth in the first place, what where exactly her duties and her powers? I don’t think these were explored enough and I ended up with more questions than answers from that front.

One could definitely argue though, that at 180 pages, the book is more of Fable: a short story that features mythical creatures to illustrate a moral lesson (thank you Wikipedia). And there is a moral of the story here which thankfully was not overly preachy or hammered through. But I argue back that the book being labelled a paranormal/fantasy story does create certain expectations and in my case those were not met entirely.

I am glad though that there are more books in the series and I will definitely be picking them up especially since in spite these misgivings I loved Hunger and its characters, the issues it addressed and the lovely writing.

Notable Quotes/ Parts: definitely the final sequence between Famine and War, it was SO awesome.

Additional Thoughts: Over at her blog, Jackie Kessler posts pretty cool interviews which are conducted by Death on his radio talk show: Post Mortem. Later today, we post an exclusive interview with Jackie Kessler and yes, Death will be asking the questions.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

Reading Next: Bloodthirsty

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  • katiebabs
    October 19, 2010 at 4:18 am

    It’s only 180 pages? And probably costs almost $22. I didn’t realize it was so short!

    Why does it seem that books, such as YA are getting shorter and shorter, much like the size of a category read, but publisher expect the reader to pay the same price as if the book was a 300 page novel.

  • Ana
    October 19, 2010 at 5:00 am

    KB – The book costs only $8.99 (Amazon) and a portion of proceeds will be donated to the National Eating Disorders Association.

  • katiebabs
    October 19, 2010 at 5:02 am

    Ah! Then I would be more than willing to buy the book then.

    But the subject matter seems too dark and perhaps hits too close to home for me to read.

  • Liz B
    October 19, 2010 at 6:36 am

    After too many books of too many pages, I loved that this one was so short. If all the books are this short, I can easily see them being put together in one volme at some future point.

    I also struggled with what to call this: fantasy seems to strong, even though it is fantasy with the Four Horsemen made real, I almost wanted to call it magical realism but that didn’t quite fit, either.

    Just because we associate the Four Horsemen with the bad — the Apocolypse — doesn’t mean they are that. Choosing, say, ending hunger rather than starting it as Famine may be equally what a Horseman is meant to do. That said, since the Horsemen are more metaphor than real, this isn’t the type of fantasy like THE REPLACEMENT or anything by Wooding, for that matter, where a locigal, consistent backstory is given or is needed.

  • Ceilidh
    October 19, 2010 at 9:22 am

    I’ve been hotly anticipating this one, even with the puny page count. It’s just such a great premise although with it being under 200 pages I worry it might not be as in depth as I’d like. Still, it’s a must buy for me and I do need a new series to fangirl over. Horsemen are the new thing!

  • Carina
    October 19, 2010 at 9:43 am

    I absolutely adored this book, in some ways for the same reasons that you did. I loved that it was a twist on a typical “issue” novel and that there was a message but it wasn’t hitting you over the head with it.

  • Michelle
    October 19, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    I too appreciated that Kessler handled the eating disorder issue in a non-preachy way. I didn’t mind that it was a shorter book and that some of the plot was explored on a more peripheral level. I imagine (and could be wrong) that teens might take more away from having read a book that gives a realistic face to anorexia without overwhelming them with every element explained in depth.

    Gotta say, Death modeled after Kurt Cobain was pretty inspired! I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with Rage.

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