A Trick of the Light Review + Author Interview

Posted June 17, 2013 by shooting in Uncategorized / 13 Comments

A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger

Review by Lauren

Due Out: Tomorrow, Tuesday 18th

copy for review, but all opinions are my own

Official Summary: 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.

Review: I was fascinated by the summary for A Trick of the Light because you don’t get many novels (for any age level) that touch on boys with eating disorders. Most people tend to focus on girls, as they are the most affected. That doesn’t mean boys are exempt though and I applaud Metzger for realistically portraying anorexia in teen Mike Welles.

Something I loved about the novel was the point of view. The eating disorder has a voice and they are the one who tells the story. It’s not a stretch to think of anorexia or bulimia having a voice. It’s all the negative thoughts you have about yourself and your body. This voice tells you to eat less, puke up what you did eat, and keep working out until your body is perfect. Of course, by that point, you’re so sick, it’s hard to reach a healthy weight and viewpoint again.

In A Trick of the Light, Mike is dealing with parents who can’t seem to keep their own lives together. While they are too busy with their troubles to notice him, he makes a friend that pushes his own already declining behavior to the edge. He now has a guide to help him eat less and keep it hidden, as well as the voice in his head that gives him non-stop motivation to do what needs to be done.

It’s a scary thought to imagine having a voice in your head that is constantly putting you down, or raising you up with unhealthy goals of being perfect. Reading the book in the voices’ point of view gives you a more personal account of what this eating disorder is doing to Mike. It was definitely a smart move on Metzger’s part to allow this disease to take the reigns in the story, just as it does on a daily basis for those personally battling an eating disorder.

Interview with Lois Metzger

Question #1:  The idea of “a trick of the light” appears a
few times in the novel; how do you feel the title encompasses the overall

For a long time the title of this book was “Stop Motion,” based
on Mike’s interest in stop-motion animation, and his growing suspicion that he’s
caught (stopped) in something he can’t break free of.  As I revised the book, another theme became
more important—that of a lie.  In the
first example of the phrase “a trick of the light,” Mike’s grandmother calls in
a panic, saying there’s a mouse in her living room.  Mike and his mom rush to see her, and can’t
find a mouse anywhere.  The grandmother,
not surprised, says, “Maybe there was no mouse… It must have been a trick of
the light.”  Mike realizes his
grandmother was lying and tricked them into visiting her.

Later, when Mike goes to see his friend Amber in an
eating-disorder wing of a hospital, he sees another patient there, a boy.  Mike gets completely freaked out by the fact that
a boy could wind up in an eating-disorder facility; after all, even a doctor
told him, “It’s a girl’s disease.”  Mike
manages to convince himself that he’s not seeing a boy, that it’s only a girl
who looks like a boy, that it’s “a trick of the light.”  Mike is now lying to himself and can’t even
see that he is doing so.  The whole idea
of a lie, and lying to yourself (tricking yourself, basically), permeates the
book and greatly influenced the ending. 
It became the better title.

Question #2:  What drew me to your novel in the first place
was that you focused on a teenage male dealing with an eating disorder.  How did this idea come to you, and what do
you hope readers take away from it?

Nearly ten years ago (that long!) I saw an article in the
New York Daily News, called “Not For
Girls Only.”  It was about a boy who, at
age 13, became anorexic and very nearly died. 
I was stunned.  I had no idea boys
could get eating disorders (I, too, thought it was only a “girl’s disease”).  The subject fascinated me; I contacted the writer
of the article and she, in turn, put me in touch with the boy and his
family.  From them, I got the names of a
doctor at Stanford University, who then gave me the names of families to
interview in New York City, where I live.

As to what readers may take away from this?  I guess it’s that anyone, basically, is
vulnerable to an eating disorder; it crosses all income levels, ethnic groups,
and ages (children as young as seven have been diagnosed).  Mostly I just try to tell a good story and
get readers thinking about, for example, ways they, or people they know, might
be lying to themselves and what they can do about it.

Question #3:  You must have done a lot of research for this
novel.  What is something you came across
that you found interesting, whether it’s something you used for the novel or

I will share something I didn’t use because it’s not
something the narrator would ever say. 
The death rate for eating disorders is the highest of any psychological
disorder—between five and 20 percent. 
Mike’s therapist at the hospital talks about this to Mike directly and
repeatedly; Mike doesn’t hear her, except on a kind of subliminal level; the
narrator only refers to these conversations dismissively as “obscene talk of
death and dying.”

The three signs of anorexia are not spelled out in the book:  Anorexics feel they can only be happy if they
are thin; an anorexic will keep dieting way beyond what is considered a healthy
weight; and anorexics have specific food rituals.  In a scene that was later cut, Mike’s
therapist questions him about his food rituals. 
Mike doesn’t answer her, but of course he has a couple (putting food on
his plate in the shape of a clock face, and eating only five bites per
meal).  The narrator remarks that these
aren’t “rituals” but “organizational tools, like a file cabinet,” and says, “You
wouldn’t call somebody with a file cabinet a slave to rituals, would you?”

Question #4:  One of the most intriguing aspects of A
Trick of the Light is the narrator.  Why did you decide to take this direction,
and was it an idea you had from the beginning or came up with as you wrote?

Mike always had a voice in his head, but this voice was not
initially the narrator.  Mike was the
first narrator, with the book told in first person (“I”).  But it didn’t feel right, Mike telling his
own story that way.  Too many complicated
things were happening to him, things he was barely aware of, so it seemed
strange for him to comment on this.  I
tried telling the book in third person (“He”) but I didn’t like that, either;
it felt distant.  Various people became
narrators, even if only for a chapter or two—Amber, Mike’s friend Tamio, Mike’s
mom.  Finally the voice in Mike’s head,
which had been getting stronger with every revision, took the reins.  This felt, oddly, very natural.  The voice was comfortable telling the
story—it liked control.  The voice had
its own personality that I found useful for fiction; it was emotional, moody,
manipulative, egocentric, pushy, oversensitive, and never, but never, admitted
it was wrong, even when the evidence was overwhelming.  The voice opened a whole new way for me to
see Mike and tell his story.

13 responses to “A Trick of the Light Review + Author Interview

  1. How interesting. As you mentioned, it's not often that we get to read about eating disorders/body image issues concerning boys.

  2. I have this for review and am very anxious to read it. As someone who's come dangerously close to being a full-blown anorexic, I am always fascinated to read a story that portrays many of my own thoughts at that time. And to have a story like this, about a teenage boy, is great.
    Thanks for the informative review and interview!

  3. Now this is a story that needs to be told! Like the author, I used to think anorexia was a "girl's disease" as well, until I was enlightened to it a while ago. This sounds quite good, thanks so much for the review, Lauren!

  4. I don't think I've come across a book before which deals with a eating disorder from a guys perspective before. I like it when authors decide to go for something different. Great review Lauren!

  5. I have never read a book about male eating disorders – but I studied them a bit in Psych classes in the past. I definitely need to check this one out. 🙂

  6. I usually try to steer clear of issue books, but I like them if they're really well done. This certainly seems like an original take on anorexia, with the narration and the fact that it's a boy. I think I'm going to check this one out after all. Lovely review and interview! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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