Publisher: Harcourt Graphia
Publication Date: October 18, 2010
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
“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?
She’d meant to commit suicide that night, but when interrupted by a deliveryman, Lisabeth Lewis’ Lexapro count stopped at three. She has hazy memories of accepting a set of golden scales and being told she’s Famine, but as she drifts off to sleep her last thought is that she’d have been better suited to be War.
Lisabeth Lewis has become a slave to her Thin voice – the one that tells her she’s fat, ugly, how much of something she can eat, how many calories are in it and how long she’ll have to exercise that day to get it off. She thinks she’s hiding her secret, since her family’s too wrapped up in themselves to notice much of anything, but her former best friend and her boyfriend James know better. After a disastrous date with James, Lisa runs for comfort – her exercise room – and comes face to face with Death, who happens to look a lot like Kurt Cobain. He reminds her they have a deal. Lisa took up the scales instead of dying that night and now it’s time she starts doing her job as Famine.
Given her black horse and only told that she’ll know what to do, Lisa is flown around the world where she witnesses the worst kinds of hunger, sees children unable to find food, crops dead in the fields and nearby, wealthy people gorging themselves, refusing to share a morsel with anyone. Scales in hand, Lisa wades into the room unseen and her fury reaches them all, first sickening some of them then transferring to them and causing a riot.
Lisa was horrified that her anger caused the havoc and decides she wants to quit. The Red Rider, War, thinks she’s weak and it was a a mistake choosing her. The White Rider, Pestilence, tries to tell her that Famine can help create balance and Death just watches, expecting her to continue to ride.
This was obviously going to be a story about a girl learning to overcome her inner demons, but Kessler layered twists on the story and mimicked Lisa’s experiences as a Rider to those in her real life with her family and her boyfriend James. Even as she feels like she doesn’t deserve to be saved for herself, she wants to protect everyone she loves and she finds a way to Ride – and live – so that no one else is hurt because of her. There were moments when I thought she was jumping too fast when she’d figured out the answer to saving someone but then I’d remember how she was with James or how she was on her first night Riding and it would fit. Her final lesson is to find the strength to stand up to the Thin voice, who’s represented by someone else in the Rider’s world and it’s a tough, emotional battle.
This is lightened up, strangely enough, by Death. Whether playing guitar in Lisa’s garden or talking in a cross between new age hippie and 1980′s valley-speak, he seemed fairly benevolent for who he was. Giving him the face of a dead grunge rocker that Lisa finds attractive was an interesting touch. It drew a lot of potential menace out of the story which for me was a good thing – I wasn’t reading this as some sort of showdown with Death.
My main complaint was that this ended too quickly and Death let things wrap up a little too neatly on his end. Lisa’s story concluded in a relatively realistic way, but it seemed unduly hurried and I thought that was unfair given how specifically important her anorexia was to the story.
My Summary: Kessler’s taken a story about a girl in the throes of a painful eating disorder and deftly turned it into a social message wrapped in an interesting, appealing paranormal novel. Even with it’s relatively short length (less than 200 pages), it takes a huge emotional journey and ends up teaching a character that rare moral lesson that doesn’t feel trite. Flaws and all, this moved me.
My Rating: B+