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Meg Cabot – Size 12 is Not Fat

September 6, 2010

104. Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot (2006)
Heather Wells Mysteries, Book 1

Length: 350 pages
Genre: Mystery, Young Adult

Started / Finished: 24 August 2010

Where did it come from? The library booksale.
Why do I have it? I’d read and loved Cabot’s Mediator series.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 22 June 2008.

Teen stardom did not
prepare Heather Wells to deal
with a murder case.

Summary: Heather Wells’s life certainly seems to be in a downward spiral. Heather is a former teen pop star who was dropped from her label for demanding to sing her own stars, abandoned by her mother (who ran off to Argentina with Heather’s manager… and money), and dumped by her boy-band singer fiancée. In order to make a living, Heather’s gotten a job as the assistant manager of a freshman dorm of New York College. It’s a job she’s good at, and one that she enjoys… until freshman women start turning up dead in the bottom of the dorm elevator shaft. The police rule the deaths accidents, but Heather’s convinced they’re not… but how can she possibly hope to prove it?

Review: I am of two minds about this book, and it is making it hard to come to a single conclusion, or even a single star rating. Let’s start with the good mind, and save the annoyed, angry, snarly mind for later, shall we?

As a fluffy murder mystery, this book was great. I was pulled into the story right away, stayed good and hooked throughout, staying up well past my bedtime to race through to the end. I totally fell for some of the red herrings, and there were enough clues given out that I could eventually put together who the real bad guy was only a page or two before the main character did. Those are all hallmarks of a good, compelling mystery. There’s also a sizeable dollop of romance stirred into the mix, and Cabot can certainly write an appealing leading man (see: Jesse from the Mediator series… although Cooper’s almost as good).

The tone of the book is a little confusing – it reads like a young adult novel, but the narrator is 28, which is old for your typical YA heroine – but if it’s not YA, then it’s pretty juvenile chick lit. The writing is full of little tics that I think are supposed to be cute but come off as annoying. Heather correcting herself every single time she mentions her dorm “(Um, I mean residence hall)” gets old after chapter one, and there are several similar repeated motifs that are no less obnoxious. But ignoring those, the writing’s easy and light, accentuating the fun fluffiness of the book.

But despite how fun and fluffy and compelling I found the murder mystery, this book has a problem. A big problem. In fact, a size 12 problem.

So. The title, Size 12 is Not Fat, is a statement of opinion. An opinion which, according to her author’s note at the end, Ms. Cabot seems to share. Heather is certainly frequently telling other characters (and the reader) that size 12 is not fat, it is in fact the size of the average American woman, that it’s possible to be a size 12 and still be perfectly healthy. All of which a) is true, and b) seems to promote a sane, sensible, anti-sizeist message of body acceptance. That’s the message the book seems to want to put out.

Unfortunately, that’s not the message the book actually puts out. Heather cannot go for three pages without mentioning HoHos or Dove Bars, the exercise routine she is so proud of consists of walking between bakeries, and she prefers baths to showers because she is “too lazy to stand up that long.” (Yes, that’s an actual quote. No, I’m not kidding. I wish I were.) Instead of being happy with herself the way she is, Heather’s constantly acting defensive about her size, and bitchy towards those smaller than she is. And instead of giving us a character who is actually healthy and still a size 12, Cabot seems to be implying that if Heather got off of her lazy ass and knocked it off with the Doritos, she wouldn’t be a size 12 anymore. To me, it read as if Cabot wanted to pay lip-service to the self-acceptance message embodied in her title, but secretly believes that size 12… is kind of fat (read: bad). Which: I call shenanigans. I call shenanigans on that bullshit so hard. It’s angry-making, especially since it’s disguised in a package that promises acceptance and positivity.

So, there’s my dilemna. Do I give it a high rating because of the compelling murder mystery, or do I give it a low rating because of the rage-inducing hypocrisy? I suppose I split the difference: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Gah, I don’t know. I can’t really call it an “enjoyable” read when it made my blood boil in parts, but if you could turn on a mental filter so that all you got was the mystery and romance parts, then it’s quite good. You’re on your own for this one, dependent on how strongly this sort of thing pushes your buttons.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog, A Chair, A Fireplace, & A Tea Cozy, Reading Comes from Writing, Teen Book Review
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: “Um, hello. Is anyone out there?”

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 11: ““Naw, it was Jeff. He dropped his bhang again.”” – the leaves and flowering tops of uncultivated hemp, cannabis.
    .

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2010 6:50 am

    hmm…all these issues you pointed out would annoy me as well. But, the book still seems likeable :)

  2. September 6, 2010 7:41 am

    That dorm thing was so annoying! I had the same problem with the YA thing – it kind of didn’t fit in anywhere. And I agree totally about the conflicting messages, I was looking forward to the ‘size 12 is not fat’ message promised to me!

    • September 8, 2010 9:19 am

      Joanna – I’m so glad to hear someone else picked up on the conflicting messages… most other reviews I’ve seen don’t mention it, and I was wondering if I was being strangely oversensitive.

  3. September 6, 2010 10:28 am

    For me the hypocrisy would outweigh the mystery elements – but that’s because mystery isn’t a top genre for me. :)

    • September 8, 2010 9:19 am

      Trisha – It’s not usually for me, either, but now and again it’s good fun.

  4. September 6, 2010 10:28 am

    It sounds like the book totally contradicts the title, which is too bad, because I think we should all learn to accept our bodies the way they are.

  5. September 6, 2010 2:32 pm

    I think I’m going to scratch this one off my TBR list. Very disappointing – but that kind of hypocrisy makes my blood boil.

    • September 8, 2010 9:21 am

      Jessica – It’s a shame, too, because without that part, it’s actually a really fun read.

  6. September 7, 2010 8:37 pm

    Rage-inducing hypocrisy is either a great band name or someone’s motive for involuntary manslaughter. Love it.

    I haven’t touched Cabot since The Princess Diaries, and I am hugely disappointed to see that the book talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk- it is possible to work out, eat healthily, and remain a fabulous you-sized twelve (and don’t get me started on non-standard sizing in women’s apparel. Rage-inducing, indeed). Ugh.

    • September 8, 2010 9:25 am

      Omni – Not just women’s apparel anymore; I saw a link the other day about the difference between label number and actual waist size of men’s pants. (Here.)

      If you are interested in trying Cabot again, I’d strongly recommend the Mediator series. They’re total fluffy teen paranormal romance, but they’re so much fun, and Jesse may be the best BookBoyfriend ever.

  7. September 9, 2010 4:43 pm

    Ugh, I can see why it made your blood boil. I don’t know that I would have been able to give it a decent rating myself. Thanks for the honest review!

    • September 10, 2010 9:42 am

      Emily – The decent rating is because when I could tune out the annoying bits, I really did enjoy the story, and also partly because Cabot’s built up a store of goodwill with me from her Mediator series.

  8. September 14, 2010 9:25 am

    Um, I think Heather is none too secure about the “size 12 is not fat” issue herself – because secretly she *does* think she’s fat, and she’s always trying to convince herself otherwise, which is why I think there’s so much confusion in the issue. By the third book, she’s a lot less conflicted about the whole thing.

    I found Heather’s age a bit strange as well. From what she mentions, it doesn’t sound as though her singing career lasted all that long – a few years at most. So she ought to have started later or be younger in the novel; but that doesn’t work either, since she’s supposed to be a teen when she starts her singing career. I think she ought to be at least five years younger to be a credible former teen star with only one or two successful albums.

    It also seems funny to a UK reader to protest that size 12 is not fat – since a UK size 12 is a US 10, I believe – and no-one would call a woman that size fat.

    Love the blog!

  9. September 14, 2010 1:05 pm

    Ela – I tried back-calculating Heather’s age too, and couldn’t make it work. I was assuming all of the drama with her ex-fiancé happened years in the past, which made me wonder why she was still so hung up on it, but which was at least believeable for a teen star. But then she mentioned at some point that it was a matter of months, not weeks, which just made me confused all over again.

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