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Laughter as Antidote

October 30, 1994|SUZANNE CURLEY

Bulimia--also known as "binge/purge syndrome"--the subject of a comic novel? Fat chance, as the 13-year-old heroine of Leslea Newman's new novel is fond of saying. But in Fat Chance (Putnam: $14.95), eighth-grader Judi Beth Liebowitz is genuinely funny when she writes--obsessively, daily--in her diary about the painful struggle between her love of food and her desire to be thin.

Judi's role model is the gorgeous and popular Nancy Pratt, possessed of both a boyfriend and a fabulous wardrobe of fashionably skimpy clothes, into which she squeezes each day only by dint of vomiting up nearly everything she eats. This simple--and possibly deadly--skill she gladly teaches Judi, in exchange for Judi standing lookout at the school restroom door after lunch.

Judi, luckily, eventually opens her heart to a teacher (herself a fat woman who is happy with her size), then lets her mother and a counselor in on her secret, but not before a whole suspenseful novel's worth of plot twists and turns.

Newman, the author of a collection of short stories called "A Letter to Harvey Milk" and "Eating Our Hearts Out," a book of women's writings on food, says that her own life has been fraught with "body issues." It's clear from her clever, compassionate writing here that she has learned a lot.

"Fat Chance" is a fabulous book which I recommend without reservation to people of any age who have ever asked themselves, "Why did I eat that?" The novel serves both as a good read and an educational tool for those who would like to understand more about the eating disorders that have become epidemic in our society, especially among young women.

Just in passing I mention how odd it is that Newman's publisher, in listing the author's previous books on the jacket copy, neglects to mention that she also wrote one of the most famous (not to say notorious) children's books of modern times. Newman's picture book "Heather Has Two Mommies," about the child of a lesbian couple, last year touched off a nationally newsworthy educational controversy leading to the resignation of New York City's Chancellor of Schools Joseph Fernandez. Strange oversight!

Michael Dorris, author of "Yellow Raft on Blue Water" and other adult novels, follows the success of his first book for children ("Morning Girl") with Guests (Hyperion: $13.95; ages 8-12). "Morning Girl" centered around a young Taino girl and her encounter with the European explorers who "discovered" America. "Guests" describes an early meeting between white settlers and a young Native American called Moss living in what came to be known as New England and a young Native American called Moss. Dorris sketches his characters and their world so well that we long not to leave them behind after the story ends.

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