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December 29, 1985|KRISTIANA GREGORY

I WAS A 15-YEAR-OLD BLIMP by Patti Stren (Harper & Row: $11.95; 185 pp., ages 10 to 14). The title will surely hook teen girls, since most of them fret about body beautiful, as does the narrator Gabby Finklestein. She lives in New York City with her family and, as you can gather, is fat.

The author portrays quite realistically the anguish suffered by those who don't match the in-crowd, and what it's like to comfort yourself by gulping cheesecake, pot roast, cookies, ice cream, whipped cream, pizza and a milkshake, all within minutes. Gabby learns from her skinny friend how to rid herself of calories with laxatives and vomiting, then as a true bulimic, she becomes addicted to the binge-purge cycle.

When her parents realize her weight loss is not from Dr. Baber's 1,500-calorie diet, they send her to Camp Blossom. She hates her counselor Bunny's guts because she's "a perfect size five." But what doesn't ring true is why Bunny waits nearly eight weeks to say that she, too, was once fat and bulimic, especially since this camp is specifically for those with eating disorders. Also, Gabby continues all summer to vomit after meals, which Bunny suspects, but no one intervenes. Why? It's pointed out earlier that bulimics can die from electrolyte imbalance and malnutrition, so the camp pranks seem forced. Pages of hostile humor could have been eliminated.

Stren's topic is poignant, but explanation points infest the story like canned laughter. Characters overreact, yell and call each other names as if they were on a sitcom. Gabby incessantly refers to her younger brother as "the brat." Other kids are "nerds," "creeps," "fatties," "losers," "jerky," etc. Granted, this is an unhappy 15-year-old speaking, but she's so negative and not-nice, it's hard to feel empathy for her until final scenes show her making a miraculous change. When she realizes being thin isn't a key to happiness, and that friendship is more important than popularity, she finally becomes someone you'd like to know.

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