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on 26 July 2012
I got this book yesterday and couldn't put it down- I read the whole thing in a day. It is well-written, incredibly honest and real, even funny at times even despite the serious subject matter, and I felt really drawn in to Emma's story. I have a friend who is battling with anorexia and the book really helped in giving me more understanding of what it must be like for her. Because of this I also found parts really difficult to read but that's not a criticism- obviously it's a difficult subject, and it's not one I have ever heard tackled from a Christian perspective before so I think this book will help a lot of people and I would definitely recommend it for anyone who wants to gain more understanding about anorexia.
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VINE VOICEon 20 July 2012
Given the deeply traumatic nature of this book's subject, this word seems entirely incongruous. But I can't it out of my head as I try to sum up Emma Scrivener's new book. And that's the word beautiful. This is not because of a superficial or white-washed treatment. Far from it. In fact at times Emma is searingly, wincingly honest. And as she writes, we weep.

Nor is it simply because the quality of writing is so good. It certainly is that - in fact from the first page, this memoir is written with a beautiful poetic flair, occasional wit (e.g. describing her first attempts at putting on makeup as making her like `a Fraggle drawn with crayons' p45) and very striking turns of phrase that linger in the mind. How many Christian books can one say that of? Far too few. In fact, at times, I'd go so far as to say that the writing reminded me of Frederic Buechner's own memoir Telling Secrets (from which she even quotes).

But my primary reason is the sheer beauty of this deeply personal story of redemption; redemption as a process, that is; painful, achingly slow, confusing, a struggle - but redemptive none the less. There is some light in this darkness - sometimes muffled, sometimes blazing.

There are various aspects of this book which mark it out from the crowd, not least of which are the deeply theological lens for this testimony of pain. I must confess that I was nervous before reading this book. I've not met Emma, but have mutual friends (and she spent some years at our church before my time). I've read a fair few `testimony' books in which people with this or that or another `issue' describe how Jesus is the answer. (NB glib, gross caricature alert.) Too often they can feel a bit shallow, a little attention-seeking (in the order of celebrities indulging in talk-show confessions), and tritely victorious.

A New Name, I'm very pleased to say, is nothing like that. It is the product of deep wrestling, a sacrificial altruism towards other sufferers, and hope-filled realism. In fact, to my mind, this is now a benchmark for how to do this sort of book.

How do such agonies occur? The impossible question. When it comes to mental health issues, as I know all too well, all one can do is remember, analyse and ponder - seek threads and patterns, triggers and vulnerabilities. We need others to help with that (professional and otherwise). But we are all products of our upbringing to some extent. Emma grew up in a loving home in Northern Ireland. So it was heartbreaking to see how in some ways her pain and suffering was exacerbated by and echoed the culture of the so-called `troubles' going on at the time (on which there were some very perceptive passing insights which reminded me of what I've witnessed when in Sarajevo, but that is quite another story).
"We were familiar with hunger strikes, but they were mentioned in hushed tones. How could such violence have smashed into the sanctuary of our home? It was impossible, a nightmare from which we would surely awake." (p71)
"Every evening we retreated, bloodied and exhausted, to the blessed oblivion of sleep. But the morning brought with it breakfast - and a new day of conflict. Nothing would change. I was made of steel: I would not eat. But my parents were immovable too. Iron met iron, and neither fork, nor will, would concede." (p77)

The cruellest aspect of Emma's experiences, though, was the chasm between promise and reality. Anorexia impels the sufferer down the path of self-destruction, all in the name of self-deliverance. So as a young teenager, Emma felt: "My body was mine and mine alone. It made me powerful and untouchable. The more I shrank it, the stronger I became." (p62) Then a decade later, when it returned with a vengeance, despite marrying Glen and spending time at a seminary: "I had never been more enslaved. Yet I was never more certain of my own strength." (p123)

Anorexia is based on lies - and forces its sufferers to drown in lies.

This is where Emma's openness is at its most bravely searing. She is prepared to describe her deepest thought processes, as she plummeted into the anorexic chasm. This is far-removed from self-indulgence, but is crucial for non-sufferers to grapple with. For outsiders, (whether family or friends, they're still outsiders) it can seem so alien. This is a book that will really help to understand and walk alongside. But Emma's story raises a very important factor which the world is reluctant to confront. For after her dangerous bout as a young girl, she seemed `cured'. As she comments, `perhaps the way we in which we `recover' is as important as the fact that we do.' (p87)
"From the outside, it looked like recovery. I was a good girl again. I worked hard and even won a place at a top university. In the glossy magazines, this is where the story would end. But my so-called recovery sowed the seeds for a relapse, ten years later." (p86)

And the worst thing was that her improvements only deepened the crisis.
"My `quick-fix' recovery only confirmed the fears that had triggered my anorexia. It taught me this: my identity did depend on my weight. I was disgusting, and my mess was too much for others to handle. If I wanted to fit in, I had to bury my feelings. I had to perform." (p89)

It was clear. Nothing less than a heart-transplant was required. But this is the sobering thing: this happened years after she had professed faith, been actively involved in ministry and done some theological training. A salutary reminder that we are rarely the people our masks suggest we are.

And as she grappled with what she faced in the mirror, she had to confront her own heart. And perhaps the most painful realisation was that her heart was set on the wrong things, and that this was the root cause of her deepest problems. She was worshipping the wrong things. So one of book's most impressive sections (and which must have been agonising to write) was the 3-page scalpel-sharp analysis of the idolatrous gospel of anorexia (pp 83-85). Here are a few extracts:
"This may sound archaic, especially if you're not a churchgoer. But we're all worshippers. The question is not if we worship; it's what."
"... the difference was that this god had a small, rather than a capital `g'. And surprise, surprise, it was a god that looked just like me. The god of performance, hard work, externals and rituals. A god that gave nothing of itself, but demanded everything in return."
"In the Bible, worship takes place in the context of a wider body where we are free to be ourselves and speak the truth in love. With anorexia, the opposite is true. I retreat into myself and cut myself off from relationships. I hide and I lie. I turn my hatred against myself and against anyone who comes close."
"... The gospel of anorexia isn't good news at all. It is a system of works, of slavery, of self-salvation and self-destruction. It feels like heaven, but leads to hell. It is a religion, as powerful and addictive as any cult." (pp83-85)
Those familiar with Tim Keller's Counterfeit Gods will recognise this powerful and important approach.

At one or two points in Emma's story, she was severely let down by those who should have helped (including some Christians). I wanted to shout at them. Either her symptoms weren't acute `enough' to be treated, or their expertise wasn't sufficient for an `extreme' case. But she testifies wonderfully to a number of ordinary Christian friends who helped her - and above all to the wonderful power of the risen Christ whom she encounters through the pages of Revelation. It is an exceptionally moving moment - and it changed her life. Because this encounter gave her the gospel-promised heart-surgery she so desperately needed. And with her new heart, comes the new name and identity, so far removed from the countless new leaves that she'd turned to try to be better.

And that has to be right ultimately. Our deepest heart-sickness can only be dealt with by the only true heart-physician. I wouldn't want people to take from Emma's testimony, however, that health professionals are irrelevant or even detrimental. That's certainly not been my experience. And we don't want to get reductionistic in any direction about how to tackle complex problems. Medication will rarely be the only help if that's what's needed, but nor should we ignore the expertise where it is appropriate. What we must always do, though, is to come, on our knees to the true life-giver. And this is what Emma wonderfully did. And she found the deepest solace and the path for recovery.

Of course, we must take care not to dogmatise from any individual's experiences. Emma certainly doesn't do this, thankfully. And as several of the book's blurb-writers note, this really is one of the best books on the subject. But we mustn't assume that every mental health issue is always at heart caused entirely by rampant idolatry. It might be - as Emma so honestly admits. But it might not. To assume it always is will lead us to resemble Job's `comforters' more than Job's Christ. As I say, this book doesn't do this. But readers might.

Emma's not clearly perfectly healed - whatever that means. The long-term physical consequences of her anorexia are heart-rending in themselves. But her greatest discovery, and thus her greatest gift to us all through this book, is this:
"The grace of Jesus gives me the strength to be weak. He gives me permission to speak as someone who struggles, not someone who pretends." (p140)

To that, I want to say Amen 100 times over. And for that reason alone, I commend this astonishing book without reservation. It has gripped me, reduced me to tears, but above all, renewed my own fragile faith.
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on 25 July 2012
Emma Scrivener's autobiography of a life lived in the locked room of anorexia is a raw, searingly honest account, which I couldn't put down until I'd finished it.

Emma has an engaging writing style, pacey, she won't let you catch breath. In terms of her writing style, she reminds me of D.H. Lawrence, particularly The Rainbow. She loves clipped, terse sentences. She can catch an idea vividly in a few words. Writing about shame: 'It's a lowered gaze, a shuffle, an internal folding.'

In terms of form, this is very much at home with St. Augustine's Confessions - the tortuous story of a soul running away from its Creator, until finally turning around to embrace the Everlasting Arms. (Minus the long appendix about Genesis, of course.)

She also writes with great self-assurance (or at least appears to!). I loved her simple account of a phase of compulsive hand-washing, which she concludes with: 'Dad made a joke about Lady Macbeth, but no-one laughed.'

One might expect an autobiographical account of anorexia to be languid, navel-gazing, ponderous. On the contrary, there is hardly a whiff of self-pity here; instead, she speaks with a voice that is clear and gracious.

A short book with a great deal to recommend it.
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on 26 September 2012
I read this book in one night. Some of it was quite harrowing, but I guess that's the consequence of being so honest. What I loved about it, though, was that it gave me hope. It's no Disney film 'Happy Ever After' ending but you do get the feeling that in some way she's come out the other side with more hope than she went in with; that not only can it be OK, but it can somehow be better. The Emma that got ill seems to be owned by anorexia, like a slave to it. You really believe that, though scarred, the Emma at the end of the book is free. I'd recommend this hugely to those suffering with eating disorders. Some books on the subject take you into the pit of despair and you feel like you've been left there. This one takes you there and then leads you out. I'm sorry that the author went through what she did. But I'm grateful for her being a sufferer with such a gift for writing. This book could save lives.
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on 16 November 2012
This is such a great book. Honest & moving, Emma has exposed some of her idols behind her anorexia, which resonate with me (& many others if we'll admit it). The need to succeed, be accepted, fit in, be loved. How much we can care about others' views of us, & how enslaved we are by our idols & desires. And how helpless we are to fix ourselves. As it says in Romans 7, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Anyway my review is rubbish compared to the book. Read the book, it shows the hope that is in Jesus alone, for anyone!!

We are all as ingrained by sin as Emma, we may be very good at hiding it from ourselves, but we are all hopeless without God's grace.
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on 7 October 2012
I would recommend this book for those wishing to read an inspiring true story. It's to the point and so very easy to read and understand what the author is saying.
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on 23 March 2016
I'm struggling to know what to say in this review. I read this book in one sitting. In places I felt there was too much detail but the honesty of the author was also one of the things that makes the book worth reading. It is difficult to understand where the shame that the author experienced in childhood originated from but the terrible result was anorexia which nearly claimed the life of the author several times. The confusion and chaos that result in a mind overtaken by this illness and the way it effects relationships is summed up in this paragraph later in the book

"You're scared and angry and sad. You want to let people in, but you don't know how. With one hand, you're pushing them away; with another you're pulling them in. You're caught between loneliness and fear; frightened of what they'll see, but also of being alone."

I felt very sad to read this and can only imagine how the author's husband felt as he struggled to know how best to help his ailing wife. As with all sinful addictions/obsessions, the author found Jesus to be the only true solution and road to recovery.
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on 4 July 2013
such a brutally honest,simply but eloquently written, heart-wrenching insight into the heart and mind and journey of a young woman suffering from anorexia. It is a 'must read' for anyone suffering from this disease or the families trying to make sense of what is 'going on' in their loved ones mind. Also 'a must' for all who (like me)live and try to understand our fellow-men. Thank God that He has released Emma and that she is blessed with such an exceptional husband and family. Mary Bates.
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on 2 October 2014
Beautifully written, heart wrenching story of a young woman's battle with anorexia - how she coped, what she felt, how she seemed to be recovering when the underlying issues were still there undermining her on the inside, and how she gained a new perspective on life through realising that God loved her & accepted her as she was, in all the mess. Very inspiring, particularly for anyone dealing with similar issues.
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on 23 June 2014
This book is a (sometimes quite graphic) look at anorexia and its aftermath. Scrivener is honest, eloquent and relevant in the way that she expresses her own experiences and maps these onto every day life for the sufferer and the carers.
Don't think that you'll get away without being convicted even if you've never had food issues - what you worship will get exposed whatever it is.
Beautifully written.
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