Morro Bay young adult author tackles serious issue  May 5, 2014 

Jack “Bones” Plumb, the 16-year-old protagonist of Sherry Shahan’s new young adult novel “Skin and Bones,” is as slender as his nickname implies.

At 5-foot-11 and 103 pounds, he’s a skinny scarecrow, a toothpick, a twig.

Ever since age 10, when a clerk handed him jeans labeled “husky,” Bones has been obsessed with calorie-counting, dieting and exercise — anything he can do to stay slim. He calls it self-control. His doctors call it anorexia.

Bones reluctantly agrees to seek treatment at the eating disorders unit of a Los Angeles hospital under the careful watch of Dr. Chu. It’s there that he meets David “Lard” Kowlesky, a compulsive overeater who dreams of becoming a celebrity chef, and Alice, an anorexic ballerina whose beauty rivals her resolve.

According to Shahan, “Skin and Bones,” which was published in March, is based on a quirky short story she wrote about a decade ago, “Iris and Jim.” Her novel preserves the story’s frequently farcical tone, balancing serious subject matter and statistics with humor.

“I didn’t want this book to be a how-to manual for other people suffering with this disorder,” the Morro Bay author explained. “And yet I didn’t want to be didactic.”

To research “Skin and Bones,” Shahan said she consulted with eating disorder prevention groups, chatted with local survivors of eating disorders, and read memoirs about alcoholism, drug addiction and other dependencies.

“I was surprised reading the memoirs (by) how similar they were,” she said, citing “the shame, the guilt, the secrecy, the manipulation” that addicts tend to exhibit.

Shahan hopes her novel, which is intended for high school students, speaks to anyone who’s dealt with body image issues. “I would hope, if nothing else, that it’s creating dialogue,” she said.

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