Posts Tagged ‘Skin and Bones by Sherry Shahan’

Sherry Shahan

Today we are pleased to shine the light on author Sherry Shahan

Sherry’s bio

Sherry Shahan graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2007. She has written several novels, including Purple  Daze, a gripping story set in the 1960s about war, feminism, riots, love, racism, rock ‘n’ roll, and friendship. 

Her Alaskan-based adventure Ice Island (Random House) features teens and their faithful huskies. As a travel journalist, she has ridden horseback with zebras in Kenya, snorkeled with penguins in the Galapagos, and hiked a leech-infested rain forest in Australia.

When not writing or traveling around the world Sherry spends her time at dance conventions. Even though she’s never won a contest—at least not yet—she loves to dress up in sparkly clothes and wear false eyelashes.

Her new novel Skin and Bones is just out from Albert Whitman. This quirky story features teens in an Eating Disorders Unit of a metropolitan hospital. The main character Jack (aka ‘Bones’) is a 16-year-old male suffering from anorexia. His roommate ‘Lard’ is a compulsive over-eater. [Sarah shared her thoughts in an earlier post.]


WOTS: How did Skin and Bones come to be?

skinandbonesSHERRY: Skin and Bones grew from a short story I wrote years ago. Then titled “Iris and Jim,” it sold quickly to a major literary journal. Later, a London publisher included it in their YA anthology, and later in their Best of collection. In total the story has appeared eight times worldwide. My agent kept encouraging me to expand it into a YA novel.

WOTS: Smart agent! But why did you choose a male protagonist?

SHERRY: Anorexia and bulimia are often considered a ‘girl’s disease.’ So I wanted to delve into the psychological mindset from a different perspective. According to The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, this disorder affects approx. 25 million Americans, in which 25% are male. 

WOTS: While reading, I felt like I was in good hands—that you knew your material. Can you share your research process for Skin and Bones?

SHERRY: Fortunately, I’m one of those writers who enjoys research, which was extensive in both Purple Daze (set in the tumultuous 1960s) and Ice Island (dog sledding in Alaska). For Skin and Bones I read memoirs written by males and females with all types of addictions. I noticed certain commonalities. Self-centeredness, for instance, and refined skills of manipulation. Guilt, which often spirals into self-loathing, feeds the vicious circle. I spent countless hours online scouring medical sites about the long-term effects of eating disorders. I was astounded to learn that one anorexic girl became so thin that her body produced fur to keep her warm. 

WOTS: This is tough stuff. Do you have any words of advice for those struggling with an eating disorder?

SHERRY: I empathize with those who have become obsessed with their body image. Although it is understandable since we’re constantly bombarded with images pressuring us to look perfect, from film celebrities and magazine models to ads for Victoria’s Secret. Thankfully, treatment is available throughout the country. The Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) lists eating disorder support groups by state. A free brochure “How to Help a Friend” is available to download. ANAD website: www.anad.org. Email: anadhelp@anad.org. Helpline: 630-577-1330. [SEE MORE RESOURCES LISTED AT THE END OF THE INTERVIEW]

WOTS: As a writer of books for all ages do you have any suggests for those considering this path?

SHERRY: My career began with shorter writing forms: magazines and newspaper articles, short stories, essays, etc. When I decided to try writing for children young nonfiction seemed natural. Moving back and forth from short nonfiction (younger readers) to novels keeps me on my toes; I’m never bored. Also, shorter projects, such as picture books or easy readers are a nice break from novels. I have two Step-into-Reading titles coming out from Random House, A Little Butterfly and Feeding Time at the Zoo.

WOTS: I love your versatility! What are you working on now?

SHERRY: A painfully complicated YA novel about the psychological effects of short- and long-term abduction. Right now I’m buried in research.

WOTS: Ooooo! Sounds intriguing. Thanks for visiting today, Sherry!

SHERRY: Thanks so much, Sarah!  

Other resources for people struggling with eating disorders:

The National Eating Disorders Ass. (NEDA)

The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders, Inc. (NAMED)

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skinandbonesFrom the publisher (Albert Whitman & Company): Sixteen-year-old Jack, nicknamed “Bones,” won’t eat. His roommate in the eating disorder ward has the opposite problem and proudly goes by the nickname “Lard.” They become friends despite Bones’s initial reluctance. When Bones meets Alice, a dangerously thin dancer who loves to break the rules, he lets his guard down even more. Soon Bones is so obsessed with Alice that he’s willing to risk everything–even his recovery.

I have a personal connection with SKIN AND BONES. I met author Sherry Shahan while we were students together at VCFA. When I heard the announcement for the sale of this novel, pitched as, “ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST meets LOVE STORY set in an eating disorder hospital in which an aspiring ballerina and a quirky nerdboy fall desperately in love only to become each other’s next deadly addiction,” I knew I had to read it!

In this realistic YA novel, Bones is worrying about making friends and falling in love – exactly like many other teen boys. Except he’s doing this within the walls of a residential treatment center for eating disorders.

This is a tough book that gets into the nitty-gritty tricks of the eating disorder trade: Faking weight checks, sneaking in laxatives, adjusting menus and food prep. It’s an exhausting feat, starving one’s self. Some of the people Bones meets are over-eaters, some are bulimic. It’s interesting how all the different groups and hierarchies are established within the treatment center.

During the course of his stay at the hospital, Bones falls in love with enigmatic Alice, a ballerina who’s been to this place before. Many times. Bones doesn’t see her struggle at first. He only sees perfection.

The thing is, eating disorders are a very real issue. All my life I’ve known people with eating disorders. Although plenty of people – most, I’d say – have some kind of issue with food, (aka bad habits); I mean actual life and health-altering disorders. And as a parent of a pretty girl who is also an athlete that has spent the majority of her life in tight-fitting lycra, I’ve been on guard a bit with regards to body image issues.

One day at work, a mom was in the middle school health office having lunch with her eighth grade son. He was a nice boy, handsome and articulate. Wiry and athletic in build, all-around fairly average. I mean average in the very best way. She was pleasant and friendly. How nice, I thought as they sat together chatting. And different. It’s the rare eighth grade boy who eats lunch with his mother at school.

Once he left to go back to class, his mother sighed and shook her head. The worry was clear on her face. She shared with me the reason for her lunch time visit. Her son had been struggling with anorexia. He was only just getting back to school. He needed supervision to ensure that he consumed enough calories.

This student’s trigger had been long distance running. After having success – and tying that success to concurrent weight loss – he’d become obsessive about his training program and started denying himself food.

It just kind of broke my heart to see this boy who looked so perfect in his lovely average sort of way and to meet his nice mother who was trying to hard to help him and know that he was fighting these demons already. 

So glad Sherry has written this book for this boy and the many others who share this struggle. Sherry is going to stop by soon in one of our author spotlights to share more about the story behind this story. Bring your stories and questions!

Sarah Tomp


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