The Girls at 17 Swann Street, by Yara Zgheib is a heart-wrenching novel about Anna Roux who has been booked into 17 Swann Street by her desperate husband. 17 Swann Street is a residential treatment facility for patients with severe eating disorders. She is quickly diagnosed with life-threatening anorexia nervosa and her dangerous and difficult treatment commences.
Her treatment? Anna must eat, after having avoided food for years. It sound simple, but she is so weak that even the treatment may kill her.
I found this story such an emotional journey. She followed her young husband from Paris, France – where she was a professional ballet dancer – to Missouri, U.S.A. where her condition begins to deteriorate. When she’s admitted to the treatment facility she weighs just 88 pounds (40 kilograms).
From Anna’s complete denial that there was anything wrong with her – apparently a symptom of the condition – to her acceptance and then determination to try to get better, we slowly learn what brought her to this point and how precarious her hold on life really is.
I learned so much about anorexia and how difficult it is to recover from – physically as well as psychologically. The average woman requires around 2000 calories per day. At 40 kilograms, Anna is well below average weight and hasn’t eaten anywhere near 2000 calories per day in years.
On admission she is placed on a 2400 calorie per day eating plan, which is increased to 3500 calories because this is what it will take to convince her body to start actually putting on weight. It needs the energy to repair organ damage first.
I can’t begin to imagine how traumatic that would be for somebody who also has a pathological fear of food.
Her medical team monitors her closely for signs of re-feeding syndrome, which is basically when the body goes into shock from having to process actual food. It can result in death.
Through it all, Anna’s husband stands by her, visiting her daily. She’s one of the lucky ones, one of the long-time residents tells her. Though she doesn’t understand at the time, subsequent events make it clear how crucial it is to have someone in your life who loves you unconditionally and won’t give up on you.
Having been through my own mental health issues following the birth of my second son, I can attest to how incredibly important it is to have someone in your corner. Living with a mental illness is not easy. Having someone there for you who never, ever gives up on you can make all the difference.
The Girls at 17 Swann Street is a highly emotional, well-written read that’s ultimately uplifting and hopeful. I highly recommend it.
Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links.