Eat Your Heart Out, Kelly Devos (Razorbill 978-0-593-20482-5, $18.99, 352pp, hc) June 2021.
Just when you thought no one needed another zombie novel, author Kelly Devos gives readers Eat Your Heart Out, a terror-filled foray into weight-loss camp that will not be soon forgotten. Personally, I’ve never understood the appeal of zombie stories, but I was intrigued by Devos’s premise and completely won over by her characters. I knew there were going to be losses (it’s a zombie novel!), and the author makes you care about every single one. More importantly, she raises some serious questions about the American fixation on weight loss and just how far some folks, especially impressionable teenagers, will go to attain society’s definition of the ‘‘perfect’’ size.
Vivian Ellenshawn, as the book jacket attests, is fat. She is also a star athlete, smart as hell, and utterly fearless. When her mother succumbs to pressure from her new husband and sends Vivian off to weight-loss camp over the Christmas holiday, Vivian is mad as hell and determined to treat Camp Featherlite with utter contempt every second of the three weeks she must spend there. As the novel opens, she is getting into the camp van and on her way, seething every single mile. Vivian is soon shocked to find that her former best friend, Allie, is also going to camp, and then quickly recognizes another camper they stop to pick up as the rich and snobbish son of the camp’s owner. (His attempts at going undercover are squashed pretty quickly.)
Along with their driver, a college student with his own desperate reasons for taking a job at Featherlite, the four young people head out past Flagstaff, Arizona, to the camp and to meet the other members of their so-called pod. It starts snowing pretty heavily in the mountains, however, and as they near their destination the four of them see… something. It’s not an animal and it’s not human, but it causes them to crash and rightfully freaks everyone the heck out. At camp there are denials all around that there is anything to worry about, even from Steve, who was driving the van and is their pod leader. The campers, who now include two more teens who arrived earlier at their cabin, are told to get down to the schedule and please, make sure to eat the special nutrition bars the camp is testing. This seems like a bad idea to everyone who, with Vivian in the lead, quickly prove themselves very unwilling to follow the dictates of their camp overlords. The group doesn’t eat the bars, and the next morning, when they join everyone else at Featherlite for breakfast, they find out just what they missed.
So, Eat Your Heart Out has a conspiracy at its center, and the nutrition bars are bad and some folks are in it just for the money and others seem to be involved with the military industrial complex, and then there’s kids who just think it’s so awesome to lose 30 pounds overnight that they have no interest in asking questions. Of course it all goes to hell in a handbasket, and of course our heroes must fight to survive, and of course there will be losses amidst the poignant moments of friendship and self-sacrifice. Devos unleashes the action with breakneck speed and every time you think the group might be safe, well, I’m not giving anything away to say they aren’t. (It’s a zombie novel; this is a not a spoiler.) I do wish the author had spent more time winding things down, as it gets very rushed in the final chapters when all the secrets are revealed, and there are a few things that don’t make a lot of sense. I was also disappointed when previously smart teens make a few critical errors that aid in bringing the narrative to an all-too pat ending. But I still enjoyed the ride to the final pages very much and adored Vivian. Eat Your Heart Out is exactly what it promises: ‘‘a witty biting novel’’ that nails the diet industry to its very ugly core.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the September 2021 issue of Locus.
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