Lightweight by Kirsty McManus

Lightweight by Kirsty McManusI don’t recall why I picked this title in the first place–those who know me are aware I’m actively against the “thin is beautiful” pressure in modern society–but something caught my eye and I’m ever so glad it did.

Lightweight is anything but light in everything it touches on. It has the traditional romance beats, and when things fall apart, it’s huge. There are many light, fun, and encouraging moments, too. At points, it read as a women’s fiction because of the close focus on Isla, the main character, along with her cousin Grace. The first person narrative is where a lot of the deeper issues come in, but if anything, they made the book more well-rounded.

The tone is both self-aware and humorous as Isla wakes up to the consequences of how she chose to handle a bad breakup. She’s still shying away from recognizing it was abusive, but the glimpses she shares are telling. While her specific obsession is food and the book is about losing weight, amazingly, it has little to do with an unhealthy body image. Even better, that same point of view appears in Isla’s outside world. Her distaste for both fat- and skinny-shaming tabloid assignments along with Grace’s balanced perspective toward body differences are just a few of the examples. The overarching message is anti-obsession more than anything else.

Isla’s journey is one of self-acceptance and finding the willpower to stop drowning life’s pains in food. Sure, she doesn’t recognize her own attractiveness any more than she sees her true value at the tabloid, but she’s not afraid to ask for help when she needs it. Isla surrounds herself with supportive people and actively works to change what she doesn’t like about her behavior. Her narrative also gives insight into the internal messages underlying a food obsession while demonstrating the long-term impact an abusive relationship can have on sense of self and the ability to trust new relationships.

You might think the book is one preachy message after the other, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

We get to know Isla as the creative, competent, and positive person she is. She models these behaviors for us in context, or confronts the flaws in our society in the course of her life and work. I am drawn to positivity, and this novel is full of it from how Isla sees the best in people, even if it makes her vulnerable, to how she’s kind as a first reaction. She’s also willing to forgive if forgiveness is earned. Isla makes a difference not by stepping outside herself but by living up to her own values even when it appears to be the risky path rather than the sure one. I could go on, but bottom line is she’s the type of person I’d love to be in the orbit of.

From that description, you’re probably not surprised to hear me say the characters are well drawn, or that they’re struggling with serious issues. This is a clean read in that the coupling occurs behind doors, but there’s no question of both love and passion growing between Isla and Wes. Grace is another wonderful character, and Isla’s wacky boss Portia turns out to be surprisingly intuitive and conscious of how her business runs.

The book is set in Australia and so uses Australian English, but I had no trouble following everything that was going on…with one slight exception. It took far too long to figure out who Poldark was (pop culture doesn’t translate as well as life stuff), but the reference wasn’t critical.

This story is very much Isla’s. Wes never gets his own point of view, but we come to know him well enough through her eyes for the dark moment to be a kick in the face. It even had me wondering, along with Isla, if she’d been seeing him through rose-colored glasses this whole time. I started to doubt the novel was a romance rather than pure women’s fiction. It’s a tough spot, but the resolution, when it comes, is solid and worth the wait.

So, yes, this wasn’t what I was expecting when I picked Lightweight for a light read, but I got what I wanted in characters I could connect with, a strong story, and so much more.

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