Our story begins in 2003, eleven years after the four young women who are the centerpiece of the story graduated from Brown University, where they were roommates during their matriculation.
The Appetites of Girls then slips back to the past, to the early 1980s, and we follow each of them individually, learning about their early years. Ruth, whose immigrant mother controls her through food; Francesca, who senses her mother is ashamed of her larger body, but who rebels against her by stuffing herself with food. And lonely Opal, whose mother travels with her numerous boyfriends, living a glamorous life and leaving her behind. Something traumatic happens to Opal on one of the occasions she accompanied her mother…and this event seemingly defines her. The saddest of them all, in my opinion, is little Setsu, a Japanese girl adopted at age three, and who enjoyed the adoration and support of her parents for her musical talents until they adopted an older brother Toru, also Japanese. Toru’s talents would then take precedence. He even helped himself to morsels of food from Setsu’s plates.
Throughout the college years, the girls stuck together as if they had a deep bond between them; as if their friendship were something more than proximity. But I could never sense any real closeness between them.
They did manage to stay in touch after university, but I saw little that connected them, except that they all had issues which they occasionally commiserated about. None of them seemed to learn how to really stand up for themselves, and when the supposed bonds between them could have offered a support system, I did not see this happening.
My overall feelings about these characters is indifference. There wasn’t much about them that I could relate to, and nothing memorable that would make me feel something as the book came to an end. And in the last few pages, as their accomplishments are summed up for us, it all feels a bit too neatly wrapped. I would have liked seeing the process, some hint of how they learned and grew from their experiences. 3.5 stars.