Mike Welles had everything under control. But that was before. Now things are rough at home, and they’re getting confusing at school. He’s losing his sense of direction, and he feels like he’s a mess.
Then there’s a voice in his head. A friend, who’s trying to help him get control again. More than that—the voice can guide him to become faster and stronger than he was before, to rid his life of everything that’s holding him back. To figure out who he is again. If only Mike will listen.
Telling a story of a rarely recognized segment of eating disorder sufferers—young men—A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger is a book for fans of the complex characters and emotional truths in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls and Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why.
Lois Metzger, author of A Trick of the Light, was born in Queens and has always written for young adults. She is the author of three previous novels and two nonfiction books about the Holocaust, and she has edited five anthologies. Her short stories have appeared in collections all over the world. Her writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, and Harper's Bazaar. She lives in Greenwich Village with her husband and son.
1. Why did you choose to write a story about a male who has an eating disorder instead of having a female as the main character? Also, why did you focus on eating disorders, as opposed to other struggles?
The idea for "A Trick of the Light" came from an article I read in the New York Daily News, in August 2004. It was about a 16-year-old boy who, at 13, got anorexia and nearly died. I was shocked and fascinated. I hadn’t realized that boys get anorexia, but as I now know there are about a million young male victims of eating disorders in this country -- about ten percent of all those with eating disorders. That article was the seed for the entire book; I hadn’t been thinking about eating disorders (in girls or boys), or about any other struggles kids go through. Once the story took hold, I didn’t want to write about anything else.
2. What inspired you to write the book from the point of view of the voice inside Mike's head? Was this challenging?
At first Mike (the main character) told his own story in first-person. He had a voice in his head, and this voice kept breaking into his thoughts and actions. Over the years (the book had many rewrites) the voice got louder, more insistent, more powerful. At some point, the voice took over completely and started telling the story. In many ways, this made things a lot easier, and made me feel closer to the reader. Instead of my having to tell the reader that the voice, which thinks it has Mike’s best interests at heart, was actually being manipulative and cruel, the reader would know it instinctively. It’s as if the reader and I were telling each other, yeah, I know what's really going on here.
3. What was your favorite part about writing this book? Least favorite part?
I liked writing the voice when it got upset, when it felt it was losing Mike in some way. When Mike meets Valerie and falls for her, the voice keeps putting her down, saying she is untrustworthy, self-centered, eager to break his heart. Of course she is a perfectly nice girl! When Mike talks about his passion for stop-motion movies, the voice complains it's bored and restless. Which it isn't -- it's scared and worried about its own survival.
The least favorite part was the worry that the book would be a "trigger" in some way -- set off an eating disorder in someone. I was careful not to glamorize anorexia or make it appealing. Eating disorders have the highest death rate of any psychological illness, somewhere between five and 20 percent. In the fictional world of Mike and his voice, I was always aware that eating disorders are very real and very deadly.
4. Are you working on any books/stories right now? If so, can you give us a hint on what they are about?
I'm working on a novel that's set in the near future, a science-fiction story about a girl who is very unhappy and does something drastic to cure her unhappiness. Still in the middle of it, so that's all I can say for now!
5. A very off-topic question: what is your favorite book, and why?
My favorite YA is "I am the cheese" by Robert Cormier. I've read it many times and each time I see something new to admire. It leaves a deep impression, and you just can't stop thinking about it. It's a story that, on one level, is about a boy bicycling to meet his father, and he is also sitting in a bare room, answering questions and getting recorded (told in alternating chapters). The book is told simply and yet is very complicated, which is my favorite kind of writing. There are several different layers of reality, which can be confusing at first, but it all makes sense by the end. Robert Cormier knew that young readers are intelligent and thoughtful -- he even said that his books are too hard for adults! He gave me the courage to "go all out" when it came to writing YA.
© 2013 Lois Metzger, author of A Trick of the Light
To be honest, I had no idea what to expect when I picked up A Trick of The Light by Lois Metzger. However, what I got was very different from what I was expecting: Mike is a teenage boy, dealing with far more than he should be. With his parent’s relationship beginning to go to pieces and his own social life starting to fall apart, Mike is trying to find stability in his rapidly deteriorating world…and that search for stability is the beginning of his true problem: his battle with anorexia and with a voice in his head, a voice that is urging his illness on.
Male anorexia is not a wildly popular topic in literature, so I am glad to see it finally making its mark. This book paints a haunting portrait of how anorexia progresses and how it can effect you. The prose was particularly disturbing, as the story was told from the point of view of the voice in Mike’s head: the anorexia itself. While this point of view added authenticity and intrigue to the novel, it also created an atmosphere of uneasiness. I didn’t want to put the book down, as both the main plotline and the subplots of Mike’s familial and friend-related relationships were captivating.
My only complaint about this book would be that, since it is on such a serious topic, it was difficult to read for extended periods of time. This isn’t so much of a complaint as a warning: unless you want to feel disturbed/sad, keep a more lighthearted book on hand! I, personally, read a little bit everyday, while also reading a lighter book in order to give me a break. However, this does not mean that the book is bad: on the contrary, I genuinely enjoyed this book. The topic is just meant for mature readers, and I feel that it is an important book that carries a message that we should all learn.
I would recommend this book to mature readers looking for a serious, unique book that will make you think.
Win a hardcover of A Trick of the Light
Ellie, age 16
Ellie, age 16