Jelly by Jo Cotterill

(Content note for brief discussion of eating disorders. Full disclosure: I know the author, but also full disclosure, I’d give this book five stars even if I didn’t because it’s a cracking good read).

There are some books you read as an adult that you wish you’d had when you were a kid. This is one of them.

Throughout my school life, I was always the biggest girl in the class, both height- and weight-wise. I did read books with fat girl heroines, but they always followed the same pattern. Fat girl is sad about being fat. Fat girl develops an eating disorder. There’s a dramatic narrative climax where the now-much-less-fat girl faints. Fat girl then moves smoothly to a healthy eating and exercise plan, and ends the book slimmer but with absolutely no ill-effects from the eating disorder.

As anyone who’s actually struggled with the complex feelings around being fat in a fatphobic society will know, this isn’t how it works in real life. An eating disorder isn’t a mildly perilous but ultimately useful path to getting thin, and getting thin is a shifty mirage of a goal that most fat people will not achieve because various factors mean it’s not possible for us. And why should we have to anyway?

In Jelly, we finally have a middle-grade heroine who is fat, but whose journey is far more interesting than a “weight loss fixes everything!” story. Jelly’s experience is realistic – she gets nasty comments about her weight, and feels like she’s constantly being held up against the other girls her age – but it’s so clear all the way through this story that the problem isn’t Jelly’s weight, but society’s attitude to it. Jelly is smart, creative, funny, kind and (thank you SO MUCH to Jo Cotterill for putting this in) fit and athletic – and she’s also fat, and that’s fine.

As you can see, I identified a lot with Jelly, and I also adored the story. The friend and family dynamics were pitch-perfect and utterly believable, and the plot reminded me of the best examples of feel-good teen movies – there’s a talent contest, the heroine being honest about herself to her classmates, and, in the adults’ B-plot, a romance as sweet as sugar. (I’m pretty sure that Lennon’s going to be everyone’s new fictional crush). Also, middle-grade literature needs more inclusion of periods, and the world in general needs more cis men who are mature about them.

I’d recommend Jelly to readers of all ages who love contemporary fiction and upbeat, funny stories, and particularly to younger girl readers who are dealing with body image issues for the first time.


About Alice Nuttall

Alice Nuttall is a caffeine-guzzling knitter who divides her time between Oxford and the various worlds in her head. She is the author of a YA fantasy novel, Spider Circus, and three webcomics, Footloose, Cherry, and Black Market Magic, as well as several short stories.
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