Work in Progress
Is there a recipe for happiness if a mother can’t eat, and the daughter can’t stop? It’s DIETLAND meets DUMPLIN’ in this brave, funny novel about a girl’s search for body-positivity when being bite-size feels like the only choice.
Eden Sterling is a talented chef who is starved for approval. Especially when her carb-deprived mother fat shames her. Then the tables turn. Mom is diagnosed with anorexia and it’s Eden’s cooking to the rescue. She sneaks into a kid’s culinary institute to improve her skills and meets Tiffany, a fat-phobic rival who knows how to sharpen a knife. If only Eden could prove food is not her enemy. Unless it IS her enemy. After binge-eating meals sent for the family, she admits the kitchen is her danger zone and ends thoughts of entering Cook-a-Licious, the competition that could make her a star. But when she learns Tiffany is a lock to win it’s back to the cutting board… and more hot water. On the big day, Eden is accused of sabotaging Tiffany’s cook station and is shown the door. Can she convince the judge she is innocent or will her dreams go up in flames?
Some days my life felt like a YouTube channel without subscribers. I had friends, but nobody who was bored enough to follow me. Even I didn’t want to follow me. Every Sunday, Mom gave out the new family calendar and it looked identical to the one from the week before.
Until the weekend something crazy happened. Something unimaginable.
It was the Saturday of Labor Day and my family was doing their “thing.” Mom was stretching before her run through Central Park. Dad was mapping his bike ride to Brooklyn. And my fifteen-year-old brother, Jayden, was dribbling a soccer ball because Sir Clueless thought he had practice. Wrong again, bro.
But other than binge-watching the Food Network and collecting yummy recipes, I didn’t have a “thing.” Or at least one that took much time. So, when Mom asked me to pick up a package in our lobby, I said sure. I couldn’t wait to catch up with our doorman, Alonzo. Maybe run into my building besties (the ones with cute kids and dogs). I missed everyone after spending the summer at camp and visiting my grandparents in Florida.
“Thank you, Eden,” Mom said. “By the way, it’s a back-to-school gift for you.”
“Sweet. Is it a new phone because mine keeps dying?”
“It keeps dying because you’re always on it.”
“I’m always on it because that’s what influencers do.”
Mom blinked. If through some unexplained miracle I had become an internet sensation at twelve, it would call for a congratulatory hug. Instead she checked the time. “Please hurry back. It’s our special day with Glamma.”
Define special, I thought. We were going bra shopping with my grandmother at the store she brought my mother to when she was my age. “Do we have to go today?”
“It’s on the calendar.”
She always made it sound as if our schedules were decided by some higher powers in a distant galaxy, and only they could change it.
“Why can’t we shop on-line like normal people?” I said.
“Because we don’t know your size now.”
“It’s the same as before.”
Mom lowered her glasses. “I’m afraid you’re bigger everywhere.”
Ugh. Welcome to the upper east side of Manhattan where skinny daughters were like penthouse apartments. If you had one you were the envy of those who didn’t. But instead of reminding her how puberty worked, how girls’ bodies changed overnight, and it wasn’t their fault, I tore out the door and raced to the elevator. At least I wouldn’t have to hear any lectures on healthy snacking (“Read labels!”) and good hydration (“Drink more water!”).
Or as I called it, The Lori Sterling Method of Tortured Living.
Alone in the hall, I could stand in front of the shimmery gold mirror and have our millionth invisible fight. Do you like hurting my feelings… Do you think I want to be like you… what’s next? Peloton classes and intermittent fasting?
Trouble was sticking up for myself required courage which sometimes I had but mostly I didn’t. It was more fun looking in the mirror and pretending to be a YouTube star. Hand on hip. Lips puckered. “Hi. I’m Eden Sterling, Greystone Academy’s latest influencer. I used to be a classic underachiever until one day I…
Joking. My snacks would get more followers than me. In the mood for Twizzlers? Ask Eden. Thirsty? Eden has coconut water. I hoped this wasn’t the reason this new boy told my best friend, Faith, he liked me.
I scanned my phone for her text.
FAITH: Doesn’t matter why Henry likes you. Don’t you want your first GOOD kiss?
EDEN: With Corey Boxer!!!
FAITH: Practice on Henry so you’re good at it with Corey
EDEN: Or I could get a kissing tutor
FAITH: They have those???
There should be an emoji for people who didn’t get jokes.
Finally, the elevator opened.
“Welcome home, Mademoiselle,” Alonzo bowed as I walked past his gleaming desk and plopped into my favorite red leather chair. I had forgotten how much I loved the glass sculptures and tall vases filled with rose-colored bouquets.
“Alonzo! What is up?”
“The sky is up. The stock market is up and…”
“The ratings are up.” I finished his sentence because it made him happy to talk about his son, a TV actor.
He high-fived me as if I was still playing junior doorman. “You must be here to pick up your package.”
“And to hang so my people know I’m home.”
Voila. The elevator opened and out walked our retired neighbor, Mrs. Adler, with her miniature poodle. “Millie! Give me kisses.” I nuzzled her nose and hoped she didn’t think I needed a tutor. “Did you behave for the groomer?”
“She did,” Mrs. Adler said. “And I’m so glad you’re back because I’m baking apple pies this weekend. Care to join me?”
Hmm. Organize school supplies or spend the day turning squishy dough into a mouth-watering dessert? Hopefully Mom wouldn’t turn the invitation into a teaching moment. Studies show that butter is a leading cause of coronary heart disease.
“Can’t wait,” I said. I adored Mrs. Adler and her gourmet kitchen, but mostly I was obsessed with her lucky measuring spoons. For some reason they felt magical in my hands.
“Come after lunch on Monday and bring your new recipes.”
“They look really hard,” I said.
“If anyone can figure them out it’s you. You’re the next Rachel Ray.”
Was I? In a gazillion years I wouldn’t have thought about having my own cooking show. My own set of Le Creuset cookware. Maybe a fan club? Love you, Mrs. Adler.
She hugged me goodbye as Alonzo returned with my package. The box was big and therefore promising. I had begged for these white jeweled sneakers Faith thought would be perfect for my first-day outfit. Or maybe Mom was surprising me with the puffy purple bag I added to her Amazon cart. Shhh. It had lots of pockets to hide snacks.
Could they both be inside?
My excitement shifted into high gear as I juggled the box while opening our front door. Then, the unease returned. My parents mentioned they would be making some home improvements over the summer. They said nothing about demolishing half my childhood and donating the other half to Goodwill.
Buh-bye front closet where I played hide and seek. Adios dining room table, my homework headquarters. See ya comfy couches where we played Trivia.
Now we had a powder room with lighting bright enough for night games, stiff black leather seating and a granite table that looked like it had been ripped from the side of a mountain. Fortunately, the wooden bar stools in our cozy kitchen were spared the dumpster.
I placed the box on the counter as Mom walked in. “What took so long?”
“Alonzo asked me to save the planet, and I couldn’t find my cape. Can I open my gift?”
“Eden, we’re late. And please go change. Those shorts are…”
“Tight,” she said. “Do you want people to judge you?”
Yes, please. It’s perfect for my anxiety. “No.”
“Exactly. Put on that cute romper Glamma bought you.”
Ewwww. The romper’s bright floral prints were not my style and what if it was also snug? Mom would hold it up as Exhibit A. “The defendant is not drinking enough water.” But if I did cooperate, maybe she would agree to my terms. “If I change can we stop for bagels?”
“Let’s have yogurt instead.”
“Yum. Yogurt. Says no one ever.”
“Fine,” she said. “Open the box.”
I wasn’t sure what my dream sneakers had to do with starvation, but I punched a hole through the center of the carton and ripped open a flap. The anticipation made my pulse quicken as I imagined how many likes I would get when I posted my fashionable feet. Then I peeked inside and felt my eyes sting. No sneakers. No bag. Just rows of squishy containers with names like Very Vanilla and Strawberry Sundae.
My old friends, Sad and Frustrated, returned from their summer hibernation. “Mommm? Do you remember seventh grade?”
“So, you remember wanting adorable high tops and getting protein shakes instead?”
She folded her arms. “Must you always overreact?”
“I’m asking what they have to do with school. Do they taste like science experiments?”
“Studies show that students who start the day boosting their metabolism perform better on tests.”
Again, with the studies. Were there any showing what daughters of carb-deprived mothers knew? Boosting metabolism was code for losing weight and mine thought I was fat. I ran to my room and slammed the door so hard my dresser mirror shook.
I gazed into it but didn’t see a girl who needed renovating like our apartment. I saw one who was tired of acting tough while dying inside.
Why can’t you accept me as I am not who you need me to be?
“Eden!” Mom yelled. “Glamma is waiting and you need bras.”
“Yeah, Eden,” Jayden mimicked from his room. “You need bras.”
“Knock it off,” Dad called from the kitchen. Then he lowered his voice. But when you are in the next room in an old building, the heating vents tell all. “Go easy on her, Lori. She doesn’t even know yet.”