Just a Few Inches, by Tara St. Pierre

I spotlighted author Tara St. Pierre and her book when it first came out last June, and I read it last year, but a review never made it to the blog. Better late than never, right?

The book tells the story of Carrie Roberts, who is a normal but somewhat superficial teenager on her school’s cheering squad. She’s dating the star basketball player, but she’s convinced that his ex-girlfriend Janelle, a fellow cheerleader, is waiting for a chance to steal him away from her. With the Valentine’s Day dance a week away, Carrie goes shopping and finds the perfect red dress, but there’s a problem: it’s one size too small.

When eating less and exercising more don’t remove her unwanted inches, Carrie turns to diet pills she saw advertised on television. They do the trick, she turns heads at the dance, and all is good between her and her boyfriend.

Until the pills keep doing the trick.

There are many YA books about teenagers with body image and/or self-esteem issues. There are many YA books about teens who develop eating disorders to keep the weight off. Some are hard-hitting, and others sadly almost glorify anorexia or bulimia. What author St. Pierre does in this book is highly unique. By giving the plot an out of the ordinary element (call it sci-fi, fantasy, magical realism, speculative fiction, or what you will), the theme of the book is integrated into an inventive, thought-provoking, and at times gripping plot.

Carrie isn’t just losing inches from her waist/hips; she’s also losing inches from her height. And her shrinking doesn’t appear to be stopping.

The chapters in this book aren’t numbered in the conventional sequence. At first, they’re named according to her dropping weight, but once she learns she’s shrinking, they’re named for her continually decreasing height. It’s a clever touch because at the start of each new chapter, the reader is immediately given a frame of reference. It also creates hopeful anticipation that the next chapter will be a greater number but mostly provides sympathetic dread when the number is lower.

And that’s because Carrie is a character worth rooting for. The first-person narration is a good choice for this book. It allows the reader to bond with Carrie almost immediately, even though she is a little superficial in the beginning. It allows the reader to understand her thought processes about why she felt she needed to take the pills and how she feels about having done so afterwards. And it allows the reader to experience her perspective shift throughout the story—not only as her world appears to grow (which is so well-detailed, it’s easy to imagine yourself there with her), but also as her self-esteem changes. Though she experiences significant physical shrinkage, she experiences significant personal growth.

The supporting cast of characters is well-conceived, and they have different reactions to Carrie’s unique situation. It’s refreshing to see that she has great friends and a complete and loving family unit, something that is often lacking in YA novels. It’s also interesting to get a glimpse into why the antagonists are the way they are. And there is a budding romance in the story, but I won’t spoil it for you.

By making Carrie a future journalist, the author can make statements or pose questions about the media’s role in perpetuating unattainable ideals of beauty. By having Carrie shrink to the size of a Barbie doll, the author can pose questions about whether they play a part in the development of young girls. But the author never answers those questions. Isn’t that what good science fiction does—use something extraordinary to highlight something about society?

My only quibble is the book is a little long. In the acknowledgements at the back of the book, the author states that earlier drafts were much longer. Maybe the story could have used a little extra shrinking. But for solid characters, a well-crafted plot, and a unique approach to an important theme, Just a Few Inches gets just a FOUR-AND-A-HALF STAR rating.

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Just a Few Inches is available at Amazon.

Read the spotlight of author Tara St. Pierre HERE.

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