This is a book review of Damsel Distressed by Kelsey Macke.
Imogen Keegen has never had a happily ever after–in fact, she doesn’t think they are possible. Ever since her mother’s death seven years ago, Imogen has pulled herself in and out of therapy, struggled with an “emotionally disturbed” special ed. label, and loathed her perma-plus-sized status. When Imogen’s new stepsister, the evil and gorgeous Ella Cinder, moves in down the hall, Imogen begins losing grip on the pieces she’s been trying to hold together. The only things that gave her solace–the theatre, cheese fries, and her best friend, Grant–aren’t enough to save her from her pain this time. While Imogen is enjoying her moment in the spotlight after the high school musical, the journal pages containing her darkest thoughts get put on display. Now, Imogen must resign herself to be crush ed under the ever-increasing weight of her pain, or finally accept the starring role in her own life story. And maybe even find herself a happily ever after.
This was my first contemporary retelling and Kelsey Macke did an excellent job with it. Think Cinderella, but Cinderella is the evil, manipulative one who is trying to make her stepsister's life miserable. Imogen was not an easy character to like at times, mainly because of all her insecurities. But it is precisely that reason that made her all the more relatable. She is overweight and severely depressed. She also cuts herself at times. I am not sure how the author did it, but one scene where Imogen cut herself was just so chilling and so real. I used to binge eat, much like Imogen. And when I say binge eat, I mean that I would go through the drive-thru of three different fast food restaurant, buy tons of food, and eat until I was sick. Imogen was the same way. The descriptions of her emotions while doing this and the fact that she ignored all the fast food wrappers and didn't even really taste the food . . . it brought back a lot of memories. Kelsey Macke got everything right. And maybe that's why it was hard to like her. She was so relatable that it made me uncomfortable. I do think she grew a lot throughout the book and part of that was due to her working in the theatre.
Grant is Imogen's boyfriend (and secret love interest, of course) and he was always there for her. There were times when I disliked him as well, because of how he treated Imogen. It wasn't bad; again, it was just realistic. Imogen is lying in her bed and can't move because she's so depressed and he is upset because he doesn't think she is even trying to get better. I could feel Imogen's sadness because I have felt that way myself. I know she wanted to get better; she just didn't know how. I was a bit annoyed by him until he made a statement to her that her illness didn't just effect her; it also effected everyone around her. Even though I still didn't like his approach, I understood it. Again, I thought that was very realistic of how people with loved ones suffering from depression must feel.
One thing that I did not like was that Imogen's father was gone for most of the book. Even though he knows Imogen's history, he "assumes" she is fine and leaves her to his wife and her daughter. I mean, couldn't the father have been around at all? The reason for him leaving was also kind of ridiculous. The evil stepsister, Ella, was really just an annoyance for most of the book and I thought maybe some of it was Imogen's insecurities about the fact that Ella was thin and popular. But then she did something truly unforgivable towards the end of the book. The reason for Ella's hatred towards Imogen seemed a bit flimsy, but I thought the resolution came together nicely. It wasn't perfect and it wasn't a true happy ending between them, but it worked. And the romance angle was a bit predictable, but it's a contemporary, so that is to be expected, right?
Buy/Borrow/Skip: Buy this one! More than just a contemporary retelling, this is a great book about mental illness.