cover image A Work in Progress

A Work in Progress

Jarrett Lerner. Aladdin, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-6659-0515-2

Using succinct and personal-feeling verse, Lerner (the Nat the Cat series) crafts an empathetic illustrated novel about one boy’s experience with body dysmorphia, disordered eating, and stigma. Ever since an incident three years ago in which a bully maliciously called him fat in a crowded hallway (“That word.// He spat it at me/ like it was the worst one/ he knew”), middle schooler Will Chambers has felt self-conscious in his body, wearing baggy clothes and isolating himself from his friends. He pretends everything is fine, even as he begins eating less. But when new friend Markus questions Will about why he never brings anything for lunch, and Will overhears hurtful gossip about his crush on a skinny classmate, Will moves further into a cycle of bingeing and restricting food. Lerner’s sketch-like illustrations, presented as Will’s own diary doodles, render grayscale caricatures of Will’s classmates, while his own self-portrait, depicted via stark black scribbles, slowly morphs into a monstrous version of himself that fills the page. Employing frenetic pacing and disjointed verse that conveys Will’s growing anxiety and internalized shame, Lerner cultivates a perceptive representation of recovery and self-acceptance. Most characters’ skin tones reflect the white of the page. Ages 8–12. (May)