Back when I worked part-time at a bookstore, Suzanne Supplee’s Artichoke’s Heart — in hardcover — was one of the books Corporate (big, scary “C”!) wanted us to prominently display up front. Each and every time I walked from the young adult section to the feature bays with stacks of this novel, I stared at the little wrapped chocolates — mmm, chocolate! — and contemplated buying it. Just, you know, based on the scrumptious cover.
But I never did. Fate would bring Artichoke’s Heart into my hands more than a year after I left the store, and now I’m struck with this aggravating question: What took me so long?
Rosemary Goode works constantly in her mama’s beauty salon in Spring Hill, Tennessee, makes great grades and rarely gives her mother any trouble. But nothing she says or does can ever clear up the shadow that accompanies her like a shroud — her weight. At 15, Rosie’s 200-pound frame prevents her from forming close friendships and subjects her to the tireless taunts of classmate Misty Winters. Though Rosie objectively thinks about being thin, the treadmill her mother got her for Christmas is currently functioning as an overpriced laundry rack.
So how do things start changing? When her mother’s strangled coughing fits turn out to be far scarier than a common cold. When Kay-Kay Reese, former popularity queen, is ostracized from her clucking group of popular Bluebirds — and turns to Rosie for comfort. When ridiculously cute jock Kyle Cox begins giving her furitive glances, his entire face turning pink with embarrassment as he smiles at her.
When Rosie finally wants to change.
I guess it’s cliche to say Artichoke’s Heart is about so much more than the quest to be thin, but I’m going to say it anyway . . . because this is a novel with serious heart. As much as I wanted to pluck the delicious-looking confections off the front cover, I didn’t want to the book to end even more. Supplee’s descriptions of the magnetic pull food has for Rosie felt familiar to me — it’s like that free-falling experience of love. And even if you’re fortunate enough to never have had weight troubles, I doubt there’s anyone in the world who wouldn’t relate to Rosie in some way. (Especially with her penchant for reading the poetry of Emily Dickinson!)
Rosemary’s voice is fresh, funny and irreverant, and her sense of humor about high school and her body is what catapults the plotline along. She was a decidedly unwhiny narrator, and thank God for that! I don’t think I could have stood 270-odd pages of griping. But that isn’t anywhere near what happened. Even when Rosie felt sorry for herself initially — hey, she is 15; I wouldn’t expect anything else — she’s not running around the room, throwing confetti at her own pity party. She decides to change — not only for her mother and sniping Aunt Mary, but for herself. I could feel the transformation happening and I felt transformed, too.
So many big issues are addressed without Supplee ever painting the story with a broad, heavy brush. Rosie’s relationship with her mother Rose Warren is complicated, worsened by her mother’s deteroriating health, but felt honest. When I was just a little older than Rosie, I also struggled with the illness of a parent — and could really relate to what she was experiencing. The fear, the nervousness, the waiting . . . it’s all part of the sad game the sickness plays on you. I read on Supplee’s website about her first-hand experience of her mother’s illness, and you can definitely tell her writing comes from a tender place. I knew that she knew — that she really understood.
But for as somber as that could be become, the book’s Southern small-town setting adds humor and a coziness I wouldn’t expect from a book set in, say, New York. (No offense to the New Yorkers out there — y’all are awesome, but we’re different breeds!) I loved the cadence of each character’s speech, and Supplee’s outstanding way of making us really hear what they were saying! Even background characters, like bully Misty Winters, seemed fleshed-out and believable.
That’s what really made the novel for me — this book felt real. We all know a Rosemary — or have felt like Rosemary at some point in our lives. Again, it is about the weight . . . but it’s not about the weight. It’s about choosing who we’re going to become regardless of who we may have been. It’s about making ourselves. And I absolutely loved this inspirational tale, fantastic for teenage girls — and their not-so-teenage counterparts alike.
I’ll leave you with Rosie’s favorite poem, which has been rattling around in my head for the past few days, buoying me up with hope myself! I’m sure it will continue to do so long after I’ve closed the last (hopeful) page, and this one will really stay with me.
By Emily Dickinson
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
4.75 out of 5!