When a well-meaning English teacher has overweight student Krista read aloud a poem about body image titled “Barbie Doll” in class, she ignites a simmering bullying event based on Krista’s appearance. Krista’s best friend, and witness to the event, Tessa, is suspended for fighting to defend her friend. The girl who bullies Krista seems unaffected by the incident at school and more concerned with what an older guy thinks of her. But as the three characters’ paths intersect, their inner lives are revealed. Each emerges as a much more complicated individual than their simple bully, target, and witness labels.
I received Picture Me from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
This is the story of what happens when parents aren’t paying attention to their children. Each chapter in Picture Me has three sections: one each for Krista, Tessa, and Chelsea. Krista is the fattest girl in eighth grade, Tessa is her best friend, and Chelsea is the bully who picks on them both (Krista more than Tessa).
Chelsea and Tessa are being raised by single moms; Krista has two parents who are together, but her mother works 12+ hour night shifts and her father doesn’t seem to have much interest in her. He can’t even be bothered to learn to cook, instead ordering pizza and Mexican and Chinese and fried chicken night after night. Krista dreams of eating healthier foods and losing some weight, but doesn’t know how to make the change.
Chelsea’s mother abandoned her first two children, leaving her sons with their father before Chelsea was born. The only reason she’s stuck around for Chelsea seems to be that there isn’t anyone else left to raise her.
Tessa’s father died in Afghanistan, leaving her mom to raise her and her little sister on the salary she makes working in a cafe. She’s the one parent that actually seems to care about her child(ren), but with the ease that Tessa runs errands and takes taxis and takes care of her sister, it’s apparent that she’s used to the responsibility. Tessa is the best character in the book. She’s the girl you would want to be friends with, the girl who would stand up for you, and the girl who isn’t afraid to do what has to be done (eventually). She has a good relationship with her mother and sister and is the most well-developed of the characters.
“Tessa,” he says. “That girl we saw Friday. That is one unfortunate girl living one unfortunate life.” He hangs his head and shakes it slowly. “I’m not saying what she did to you and Annie was right in any way. I’m just saying it takes a whole lot of understanding in this world to know why people do what they do. And you don’t have to be a genius to know where that girl’s anger is coming from. Whatever else, remember that you have so much more, Tessa. So much more. And she knows it.”
The girl in question is Chelsea. I know I’m supposed to feel sorry for Chelsea because her mom doesn’t care about her, but Chelsea behaves so horribly that I just can’t. You would hope that even bullies would know deep down that bullying is bad, but in the sections from her point of view, it’s apparent that she doesn’t see anything wrong with her behavior. She has no remorse. She really does believe that she needs to bully Krista into losing weight, that it’s for Krista’s own good.
I don’t care about all those pictures of Krista that are suddenly everywhere. Krista, the girl everyone says I hurt. I don’t spend any time thinking about whether it’s true or not. She is nothing to me. I didn’t even remember her face until I saw it on her locker. When I looked at it it was like I’d never seen her before. The big brown eyes, the long dark curly hair around a heart-shaped face with a nice smile — I couldn’t recall any of it. All I remembered was her size.
Chelsea gets even worse when she starts hanging out with an older boy, a high school dropout who delivers pizza and drugs. As impossible as it might seem, she sees him as her ticket out of her current life. She spends hours and days and weeks riding around in his car with him and I just wonder WHERE IS HER MOTHER?
Where are Krista’s parents, for that matter? After a bullying incident at school that leads to a fight, Tessa is suspended and Krista chooses to stay home. She narrates that her parents try to talk her into going back to school, but it doesn’t work. They TRY TO TALK HER INTO IT? TRY? What I want to know is, why do they even give her the option of staying home? It’s one thing to pull a child out of school to send her to another school, or even to homeschool. Krista, though, just stays in her room and does nothing. Her parents do little more than wring their hands.
If her own parents don’t care about Krista’s well-being, I’m not sure why I should.
Picture Me a short book, only 168 pages, and although the characters aren’t very well-developed or all that likable (with the exceptions of Tess and her family), I did like it. I was interested enough to keep reading to the end to find out what happened with Chelsea and her boyfriend, whether Krista would ever return to school, and, mostly, how Tessa and her mother would deal with the appearance of her uncle. That, not the main story, was my favorite part of the book. When Tessa’s father’s brother suddenly shows up needing a place to stay, he fits right in. I think the book would have been better if it was longer, with more time to explore the characters and their motivations. I feel like I barely got to know any of them other than Tessa.