Work in Progress
Is there a recipe for happiness when a mother can’t eat, and a daughter can’t stop? In this brave, funny novel, a 12-year-old girl searches for acceptance when being bite-sized seems the only choice.
Eden Sterling is an aspiring chef who is starved for her mother’s approval– a mother who hopes body shaming will keep her daughter out of the kitchen. Then the tables turn. Mom is diagnosed with anorexia and Eden hopes that her cooking will help save Mom’s life. First stop is a kid’s culinary school to improve her skills only to meet Chloe, a skinny rival who knows how to sharpen a knife… and her tongue. It’s time for Eden to prove food is not her enemy unless what if it is. After learning she will face Chloe in the baking competition Chloe is a lock to win, Eden binge-eats food trays sent for her family. And as if there isn’t enough heat in the kitchen, Eden’s dessert-phobic Mom unexpectedly shows up on Zoom at the competition just as Chloe accuses Eden of cheating. Will Eden get her sweet ending or let her dreams go up in flames to finally earn her mother’s praise? She has a lot on her plate!
Girl Power You are Dead to Me
Sleepaway camp was such an awesome part of my life my parents told everyone, “Eden lives ten months for two.” So, so true. Nothing was better than hanging out at the lake, sharing secrets and laughing until my stomach hurt. For some reason everything was funnier in Pennsylvania like that time the toilets in our bunk overflowed and we had to sleep at a hotel.
Then came the summer of seventh grade.
The girls I couldn’t wait to hang out with changed so much I secretly begged my counselor to let me switch to a different bunk.
“What’s wrong, love?” Ella from Australia asked. “Your mates not tickling your fancy?”
“Everyone’s acting different,” I said.
“How about giving them a wee more time?”
I squirmed because counselors, even the ones who came from a different country, were supposed to act like half moms, half friends. The kind who put their arms around you and promised to help. But if Ella thought we were problem solving then she was terrible at her job because spending more time with these girls meant one thing. More pretending we were all the same, like aliens.
For one thing, I liked boys I just didn’t get the point of being obsessed with them. I also liked clothes but couldn’t believe Ava Zelinsky packed enough outfits to dress our entire bunk. She also decided (without a vote!!!) we weren’t going for another gaga ball championship because the only trophy that mattered was the one for Best Flirts in Skirts.
And that still didn’t explain my misery.
What explained it perfectly was the giggling behind my back when I changed and my so-called friends leaving for activities without me. And exactly how many times did I have to ask them to scoot over at our dining table?
I felt like a star of a TV show that was suddenly written out of the script.
A week later I couldn’t take the rudeness and begged Ella to please, please, please let me move into to Bunk Eleven. “The girls are way nicer,” I said.
“Sorry, Eden. No more room at the Inn… Might ya talk to Olivia and Hannah?”
I had talked to my two best friends and they said they had no idea why everyone was being so mean yet magically they knew everything else– who pretended to have cramps, still sucked their thumb and was hoping for their first real kiss.
That night, I tossed in bed feeling shaky and sweaty, the signs my troublemaker friend had returned. Go home, Anxiety whispered. “I can’t,” I whispered back. “Mom will call me a quitter.” But then I thought of the coolest idea to win everyone over.
I would act like the star of my own show.
First, I would tell them I’d created an Eiffel Tower cake out of silver fondant and might be a guest chef on “Baker Babes.” Next I’d mention my cooking video could go viral and though none of this was true neither was half the stuff that they bragged about.
Oh, hello my new bestie, Attitude.
The next morning on the way to breakfast me and Attitude inhaled the crisp mountain air while admiring the rain-soaked berries which twinkled like holiday lights. Soon I heard my name called and my mood brightened.
“We’ll tell you what happened,” an out of breath Hannah said.
“But you can’t repeat it,” Olivia huffed.
I felt breathless too. “I won’t.”
Olivia looked around to make sure no one else could hear. “So, Ava texted everyone before camp and said to ghost you.”
Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. “Why?”
“She said you don’t care about your looks.”
“Because I’m bad at makeup?” I asked.
“Because you need to go on a diet,” Hannah whispered.
I kicked a pebble so hard it ricocheted off a tree.
“Don’t worry,” Olivia said. “We told her you want to be a chef so you have to try everything.”
I did want to be a chef. What I didn’t want was to spend the summer feeling bad about myself. “Do you think I should lose weight?”
Hannah tapped her lips. “Maybe like ten pounds…or even five.”
“Unless you don’t want to diet,” Olivia said. “We don’t all have to look alike.”
Then Hannah fist bumped me. “Yay for girl power.”
“Yay for girl power,” I repeated even though there was no such thing.
In actual life girl power was invented by guidance counselors and people who sold cute t-shirts, but even the shirts with really good sayings changed nothing because everyone knew the only girls with power were skinny, pretty and perfect. Also, if I made a big deal about being judged, I would spend the rest of the summer hanging out with the horses.
“Could you tell Ava I’m going to be a famous chef so she’s nicer to me?”
The warning worked! That night, she asked me to hang out on the porch and I felt like a genius for doing my own problem solving. At least until I found out the invitation was a set-up so our bunk could play, “You’re Hot! You’re Not.” It was a stupid game where we had to vote on the parts of someone’s body that were good and the ones that needed help.
Guess who lost points for having a jiggly belly and thighs that stuck to each other?
Soon it was Ava’s turn and I almost mentioned her weird shaped eyes but decided to say she was fine the way she was. That we all were. “Don’t you think our looks should be the most boring thing about us?” I asked.
“NO!” everyone said as if I had offended the host country at the Olympics.
But I was only repeating a lesson my Glamma taught me after winning three beauty contests and using the prize money to pay for law school. Sadly, Team Ava did not appreciate my grandmother’s advice because the next day they left the sweetest note under my pillow. We think you should wear a bathing suit under your clothes so it holds in your big gut!!!
I did what any sad girl would do. I locked myself in a bathroom stall, quiet-cried into scratchy toilet paper and wished someone had warned me that feelings hurt way worse at twelve than at eleven. I also wished I could make a video that went viral so everyone would beg to be my friend and get a text from my assistant, Julia. No wait. Julianna!
JULIANNA: Sorry guys. Eden and her rescue dogs are headed to Miami for a big bash with Nick Jonas. Raincheck?
Sigh. Daydreams were great but Plan B’s were better.
Later that day I announced a bunk event where everyone could take turns taming my crazy curls before evening activity. So fun, I thought until not even Olivia and Hannah volunteered, and my phone calls home started sounding like a country song. “Why can’t I leave? Oh, please, please, please let me leave…”
Mom, a lawyer like Glamma, made her opening argument. “Sorry, Eden. I’m swamped with cases and you know how I feel about quitters.” And Dad said, “Manhattan is stifling, but lucky you camp has a lake and a pool.” Then Jayden, my fifteen-year-old bro, let the defense rest. “Dude! No one misses you.”
But what upset me more than my family not caring about my happiness was knowing Ava wouldn’t be the last girl to body shame me which was ridiculously unfair. Did people think I wanted to inherit Dad’s short, round genes instead of Mom’s and Glamma’s thinny-thin ones? Not to mention, who decided there was only ONE PERFECT LOOK?
No one at camp seemed to know, especially Ella of Australia who was so in love with her first iPhone she didn’t see me walk out the door during clean up. Or notice I was carrying t-shirts and a trowel I’d borrowed from the lady who ran the FlowerPower club.
Down, down, down to the lakefront I trudged, waving at our Division Director and a few girls from my softball team. I thought someone would ask where I was going, but no one did, and the hurt and anger swirled inside me like a nasty stew. Just wait until I am famous and I ignore all of you. “You want tickets to my cooking show? Sorry, it’s sold out.”
Maybe revenge dreaming wasn’t my best trait, but it did make me walk faster and soon, I found my perfect tree—a large one for shade with a spot to dig a hole. Then I fell to my knees and sunk the trowel into the dirt with such force it sent a sharp pain between my shoulder blades. Didn’t care. I was burying the awful t-shirts Mom made me pack: MY LIFE, MY RULES… WE RISE BY LIFTING OTHERS… DREAM BIG. NO, BIGGER!
“Girl Power you are dead to me,” I said as I shoved them into the hole and kicked dirt over the top. Oops. I still had one more but decided to spare its life.
“What are you doing?” a girl’s voice startled me.
I turned to find Molly, a younger camper, staring at the lumpy heap. “Getting rid of some things I don’t want anymore.”
“Why don’t you want them anymore?” she asked.
I didn’t feel like explaining my life to an annoying fifth grader, but when she dug her heels into the dirt, I knew she wouldn’t leave until I answered. “The sayings on them are big lies and also they make me feel worse not better.”
“Worse about what?”
My friends became super judgy and think anyone that doesn’t look like them is gross. Trouble was camp rumors oozed like s’mores and I would be toast if Molly repeated that. Instead, I said, “I’m tired of pretending to be like everyone else.”
I did not expect her to come barreling at me with a hug. “Same.”
I wondered how a skinny girl with THE PERFECT LOOK would understand what I meant unless… “Molly, are you being bullied?”
“Ghosted,” she said.
I bonked my forehead. “Me too! What’s your story?”
“So, I told a friend I get confused because sometimes I think a boy is cute and sometimes, I think a girl is and now nobody will talk to me… can I bury something, too?”
“I guess,” I said.
She sped off and returned with a white frilly skirt and matching top. “My mom made me bring this outfit and I hate it.”
“But the hole is too small.”
She sat Indian style and dug with her fiercest might. “I’ll make it bigger!”
Soon, we added her clothes to the burial ground and when she looked up her braces sparkled in the sun. “Best day of camp ever.”
Suddenly I remembered I was holding the shirt I still liked but had a feeling Molly needed it more. “Do you want this?”
She uncrumpled it and read the saying: IF YOU DO YOU CAN I DO ME? “Thank you so, so much!” Then she put it on over her shirt and gave me a fist bump. “Girl power!”
I laughed. “There’s no such thing.”
“Yeah, there is,” she replied. “It’s when one of them gives you a reason to keep living.”