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Authors: Alyssa B. Sheinmel

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The Stone Girl

BOOK: The Stone Girl
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ADVANCE
READER’S COPY— NOT FOR SALE
THE
STONE GIRL

December 2011
This was not an easy book to write. I liked Sethie so much, and I hated throwing so many bad things at her. Sometimes I was scared that I would get lost in the dark places I had to remember in order to write Sethie; and then sometimes I felt like a fraud, because I am so far from those places now that I didn’t believe I could write honestly about them. I was scared that I had forgotten too much, that I would leave too much out. And there were things I remembered as I wrote that surprised me; and some—many—that disappointed me, that made me ashamed.

Dear Reader,

This is the book I have been waiting to write. It is also the book I never wanted to write. I always knew that someday I would write a book in which the protagonist had some sort of eating disorder, especially if I continued to write for young adults, because an obsession with food and fat was a large part of my own adolescence and young adulthood. People who knew me then would ask me, when they heard I was writing for teens, whether I would write about eating disorders; I always said no. I didn’t want to write about them. For one thing, I knew that if I did, I would probably have to talk about my own past—and I’m a pretty private person—and at this point in my life, I’m certainly not proud of the time I wasted with my precious body issues. For another, who wants to read yet another book about anorexia and bulimia? I didn’t want to write about them unless I believed I had something new to say, or at least some new way to say it.

I hope I have done that; I hope that by writing in the third person, and infusing a little bit of magic into Sethie’s world, I have said something new in this book. I hope I have shown that there are shades of gray in eating disorders; that there are social, even friendly, places for them to start, and that even though Sethie will never be the kind of sick that weighs eighty-five pounds, she is still terribly confused and troubled about food and her body. Perhaps the eighty-fivepound anorexic’s story is more tragic, and more important, than the story of a girl like Sethie. But Sethie’s is, I think, the more common story, and that was the story I wanted to tell. I tried to show that there is a lot more going wrong in Sethie’s world than her relationship with her body; that the deeper she falls into her disorder, the smaller her world becomes.

I began writing
The Stone Girl
when I was about halfway through writing
The Lucky Kind.
But I put
The Stone Girl
aside after a little while. When I returned to it, I thought maybe I was only writing this book for me; maybe it would never be published. Maybe I was just writing it to get it out of my system, this anorexia book that I just
had
to write. I thought that once I had finished it, I could go back to writing something more worthwhile, something more worth reading, something that I might actually want to share.

Sethie is most certainly not based on me. I was never as sick as Sethie, and I was never in quite the same situations. But I cannot revisit the period in my life that stretched from my late teens to my early twenties without revisiting the food and the fat, the bad boyfriend (who, in his defense, was at times also the good boyfriend), and quite a few complicated girl friends. Sethie’s story is not my own; but hers was the story that I had to tell, and I hope it’s one you will want to read.

Alyssa B. Sheinmel

TITLE: The Stone Girl AUTHOR: Alyssa B. Sheinmel IMPRINT: Alfred A. Knopf Books

for Young Readers PUBLICATION DATE: August 28, 2012 ISBN: 978-0-375-87080-4 PRICE: $16.99 U.S./$19.99 CAN. GLB ISBN: 978-0-375-97080-1 GLB PRICE: $19.99 U.S./$23.99 CAN. EBOOK ISBN: 978-0-307-97462-4 PAGES: 224
AGES: 12 and up

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GIRL
GIRL
ALFRED A. KNOPF NEW YORK

 

THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A
.
KNOPF

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Text copyright © 2012 by Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Jacket art copyright © 2012 by [TK]

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Visit us on the Web! randomhouse.com/teens
Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at randomhouse.com/teachers

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The stone girl / Alyssa B. Sheinmel. —1st ed.
p. cm.
Summary: Seventeen- year-old Sethie, a senior at New York City's Franklin White girl's school, has outstanding grades, a boyfriend, and a new best friend but constantly struggles to lose weight.
ISBN 978-0-375-87080-4 (trade) — ISBN 978-0-375-97080-1 (lib. bdg.) — ISBN 978-0-307-97462-4 (ebook)
[1. Anorexia nervosa—Fiction. 2. Eating disorders—Fiction. 3. Dating (Social customs)—Fiction. 4. Friendship—Fiction. 5. Schools—Fiction. 6. Mothers and daughters—Fiction. 7. New York (N.Y.)—Fiction.] I. Title. PZ7.S54123Sto 2012
[Fic]—dc23
2011037768
The text of this book is set in 12-point Dutch 766.

Printed in the United States of America
August 2012
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

First Edition
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
THIS BOOK IS FOR EL AI NE S. B. SHEI NMEL
1.
I

t i s September in New York City and Sarah Beth Weiss has just turned seventeen. For as long as she can remember, she has been called Sethie; her parents, her grandparents, even cousins and uncles who barely know her

name at all, know that she is called Sethie. Only new teachers get it wrong. At school, when they go through roll call, Sethie has always had to interrupt to explain. It happened just today, the first day of her senior year. She thought all the teachers at her small school would know her real name by now. But there was a new math teacher today. It wasn’t his fault, and Sethie knows it, but she was angry at him. She was frustrated that he made her explain about her name. She felt bad, later, for having been angry.

Sethie is rushing. She goes to an all-girls school, the Franklin White School, or the White School, or White for short, a name whose irony—or complete lack thereof—is lost on none of the homogenous student body. School has ended for the day, and all Sethie can think about is the boy,

1 the boy, the boy. All summer long, she didn’t have to wait until threefifteen to see him, and now she can’t remember how she managed before. And she remembers waiting even longer, last year, when she had yearbook editorial meetings that lasted past five, or appointments with her SAT tutor at the coffee shop after school.

Shaw, Shaw, Shaw. She sings it to herself, rushing, like a horse being taunted with a carrot on a stick—must get that carrot, must go faster, must get to Shaw.

There are two things that are true about Sethie: one is that she is always hungry, a mean, angry kind of hunger that feels like a piece of glass in her belly; the other is that she is always missing Shaw.

When Shaw says her name, Sethie feels it on her skin. Her name sounds serious coming out of his mouth, in his deep voice, a voice that belongs somewhere else— in an opera house, on a film screen, coming out of the radio. A voice that deserves to be anywhere but on her bedroom floor, actually speaking to her, paying attention to her, saying her name. Giving her name heft it never had before.

Shaw, Shaw, Shaw. The name that feels like it never finishes, like it’s missing a letter at the end. She knows that he can’t have missed her all day, not the way she has missed him. Shaw would never be bothered with missing anyone. Shaw doesn’t believe in relying on someone else for his own happiness. Shaw’s friends were mostly away all summer; he probably actually enjoyed his first day back at school, probably enjoyed seeing all of those other people, getting new

2 books, pressing freshly sharpened pencils into loose-leaf paper.

Sethie knows Shaw’s pencils are freshly sharpened, because last night she cleaned out his school bag. Shaw was in the shower, and she threw away all his chewed-up and worn-down pencils and replaced them with fresh ones of her own. A surprise for his first day back.

Sethie has approached this whole day with speed, rushing from class to class, running up and down the stairs, watching the clock, willing it to be eighth period. The other girls walked slowly between classes, catching up, complaining about this or that teacher, agonizing over college applications. Sethie arrived to each class early, turned to the first page of her notebook, and pressed her pen to the top of the page, ready to get on with things. Her classmates sat in the senior lounge; they’d waited years for that lounge, long and skinny, with doors to close the teachers out. It’s very small; Sethie thinks that at another school, it might be too small to fit the entire senior class inside it. But all the girls at Sethie’s school are skinny. Since most of the girls have been there since kindergarten, Sethie imagines the application process. No overly-swsitingd), and quyfrie,nkienprobab atheotimits 623 fe20">
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“At, tkid?”or="sa from; busto buienelbow-deep nd ;rfee b wnr trifecs tur; bujufe b t buttomhpanaspi fa; bucot ter.
“Ins on, Ins on, wilsot r weird. Juherimit”
doedit’k wilsot r weird. canabimitienpahersummont butinglor="sns reetekfe b lor=andsrpntsanducot tryfeethekidfeeat ; lor=andsrpnts basicaonyfeo aaienie rb>stayythel reetekf.
usuasndfee b timeyeawx="0fa. Heleft New Yor6California wnrwafeensitfteryfpnts splitienyeasimn oylervbulor=andsrfaquestion ib wnrsaafeak anaSAT prep clahs fasummontcotrcomHesaafeproudaf6giv upyfvacation
Treeeeks with Shaw was a vacation. Sethie had to

25 sleep in a guest bedroom on a twin bed alongside another girl so that Shaw’s parents wouldn’t know they were sleeping together. When Shaw was gone during the day—he was landscaping with a local company as his summer job—and all his friends were at the beach, or sitting by the pool, or shopping in town, Sethie stayed at the house, and waited for Shaw to come home. If she went out with everyone else, she might not be there when he finished with work; he usually came home around three. When he came home, he almost always took a quick shower, and they almost always had sex before going out to meet his friends. Sethie liked it that after a few days, Shaw knew she’d be waiting for him. Having sex was the only time they were alone; Shaw’s friends were waiting for him at the beach or by the pool. He couldn’t spend a whole afternoon or evening with Sethie and Sethie alone; it would have been rude, and Sethie understood. Other girls sat on boys’ laps at the beach, held boys’ hands walking through town, kept a hand on a boy’s leg under a table. Shaw didn’t like public displays of affection; he told Sethie so. But Sethie could stand near him on the beach, sit next to him at dinner; Sethie wanted always to be close to him.

At the country house, while she waited for Shaw to come home from work, Sethie ate only Ritz. Shaw’s parents kept the house stocked with food, and there was an enormous box of Ritz crackers in the pantry. Each day, Sethie allowed herself a maximum of six. She stretched them out over Shaw’s absence. He left early, at seven-thirty. Sethie always heard him leave, but she would force herself to go back to

26 sleep; a few more hours of sleep were a few fewer hours to be hungry. After everyone else left, she moved into Shaw’s room and watched TV in his bed. Then she had two Ritz, and promised no more. Shaw would be home by three, and then they would figure out what to eat together. Surely she could make it until three with two Ritz. But then there were two more. The guilt began when she reached six and was still hungry. One day, she ate eight. She wonders now how many are in the stuffing. She is glad she had a small lunch.

Jane heats up gravy, Shaw carves the turkey, and Sethie just sits, watching. Jane gets out three plates, forks, and knives, puts them down on the kitchen island around which they’d been sitting on bar stools. Soon the island is covered with food. Soon they are eating. Sethie laughs at the gravy running down Shaw’s face, at the jagged slices of turkey he’d cut.

Then there is pecan pie and vanilla ice cream. Sethie watches Jane eat. After a few bites of pie she leans back in her chair.

“I am so full.” She puts her fork down. She stops eating.

Sethie puts her own fork down. She might be full too, but she can’t be sure. Everything tastes so good.
“Should we clean up?” Shaw asks.
“No, it’s okay. Elsa gets here early. I’ll just put the leftovers in the fridge so they don’t go bad.”
Sethie knows Jane is her age, that this is her parents’ house, but Jane seems like a grown-up in her own apartment.
Shaw looks at his watch. “Can I use your phone for a minute?” he says. He doesn’t explain why.

27

“Sure,” Jane says. She gestures to Sethie. “Come on, let’s watch TV.”
In another room—Sethie decides to call it the den— Jane sinks into a couch, turns on an enormous television.
“I am so full.”
“I know,” Sethie agrees, “I can’t believe I ate so much.” My hand will hurt, she thinks, after I finish writing down everything I’ve eaten.
“I know. I could barely even stop when I was full.”
“I couldn’t stop even then.”
Jane laughs. She thinks Sethie is kidding.
Sethie says, “Sometimes I wish I could just stop eating for one week, just take a week off.”
“I know what you mean,” Jane says. “I tried to do one of those weeklong cleanses once, but I only lasted a day and a half.”
Sethie didn’t mean a cleanse. Sethie meant she wished she could just stop eating. She thinks it would actually feel better than this: What good is fullness that kicks in too late to stop her from eating too much?
“I’m so full my stomach hurts,” Sethie says.
“If you really feel sick, the bathroom’s right there. You could throw up.”
Sethie shakes her head. “I almost never throw up. No matter how sick I feel, nothing ever happens. Not even when I try.”
Jane shrugs. “I can show you, if you really want.”
“What?” Sethie sits up straight, feels her stomach going out slightly, not concave under her tank top like Jane’s is.

28 Sethie hadn’t meant try like that. She meant the way you try when you don’t feel well, crouching by the toilet waiting for something to happen. Not that she hasn’t tried the other way. She has reached her fingers into her mouth as far as they will go, but it’s never worked. The most she ever got was the occasional dry heave.

But Jane knows how to make herself throw up.

“It’s really easy.” Jane looks at Sethie carefully. “You sure?”
Sethie tries to stay calm. She can’t let Jane see how excited she is. A solution for those nights when she overeats, when she can’t stop herself.
“Yeah,” she says evenly, lightly. Like she’s just curious.
“Come on.”
Jane leads Sethie down a hallway and into an enormous bedroom.
“This is my parents’ room,” she explains. “Their bathroom is perfect for this.”
Sethie wonders what makes a bathroom perfect for lessons in vomiting. But then she sees. The bathroom is huge, with two toilets, each with their own door, each private. A bathroom two people can use, privately, at the same time.
“Okay, so this is the key. When you tried before, what happened?”
“Nothing. I’d gag, but nothing would come up.”
“Okay, that’s what you’re doing wrong. You’re stopping too soon. When you start to gag, keep going—keep your fingers in your mouth.”

29 “That’s all?”
“It’s the easiest thing. Trust me.”
Sethie turns for the bathroom. She notices Jane standing by the sinks.

“Are you going to too?”
“No, I stopped doing this in the tenth grade.” Sethie feels childish now, for needing to do this. A

minute ago, it seemed exciting, illicit. Like the first time she smoked pot or the first time she and Shaw had sex. But now she feels like a baby, sloppy and fat, someone who hasn’t learned to control her hunger. About to begin something she ought to have outgrown by now. Not like Jane, who stops when she’s full.

“Don’t do it if you don’t want to, Sethie.”

Sethie definitely wants to. She closes the door behind her and crouches in front of the toilet. She is pale from a summer spent mostly indoors, and her veins are visible, up and down her arms, tiny but turquoise under her skin. She doesn’t notice that this floor is one solid piece of marble, so when she crouches on it, it won’t leave a pattern on her bare legs. The floor of her own bathroom at home is crisscrossed with tiny tiles.

When Sethie comes out of the bathroom, Jane’s back is to her; she is looking at herself in the mirror. “How’d it go?” she asks, without turning around.

“Just fine,” Sethie says, like it’s no big deal, trying to conceal her pride. She is so excited she wants to snap her fingers, spin in a circle, jump in the air.

“Here, use this soap.”
30

Sethie brings her fingers to her nose. They smell. A side effect of the trick Jane has taught her: she had to keep her hand in her mouth while she was vomiting, so as she did it, her hand was covered in vomit. She wiped it off with toilet paper that stuck to her skin. Sethie thinks it’s interesting that she is a lefty but she couldn’t do it with her left hand. She’d had to use her right.

She must wash her face before Shaw sees her.
§ § §

In the living room, where they left the TV on, Shaw is packing a bowl.
“So where are you parents, anyway?” Sethie asks Jane as they settle beside each other on the couch.
“South America, I think.”
“You think?”
“Yeah. Caracas.”
“Is it for their work?”
Jane shakes her head, then reaches for the pipe. Sethie thinks she takes a hit prettily, like a girl. Sethie smokes like a boy, because Shaw is the one who taught her how.
“Not anymore,” Jane says before exhaling.
“A ny more?”
“My dad’s kind of semiretired. He just plays with stocks these days.”
“How old is your dad?”
“Huh? No, it’s not like he’s retired because he’s old. He was just really good at his job, so a few years ago, he quit.”

31 “He was so good that he quit?” The logic is lost on

Sethie.
“Yup. Now he just invests our money, and they travel all
over.”
“Sounds like fun.”
Jane shrugs.
“Do you ever go with them?”
“Sometimes, over the summer. But for the last couple
of years, I just kinda wanted to stay closer to home, you
know?”
Sethie nods, looking over at Shaw. He’s taken back the
pipe, and stands up to smoke. Sethie watches the way his
chest expands when he inhales and imagines her head lying
against his rib cage, rising and falling with his breath.

§ § §

“You don’t look like a Jane,” Sethie says later, when the pot is gone and Shaw has taken control of the remote, perched on the ottoman in front of the couch where Jane and Sethie sit. Sethie means what she has said as a compliment.

“I know,” Jane says. “What a dull name. Jane Virginia Scott.” She wrinkles her nose. “I’ll be a Daughter of the American Revolution one day.”

“I’m going to call you Janey. You deserve more than one syllable.”
Janey smiles. “I like that,” she says.

32

Sethie is happy to give Janey something, even just an extra syllable, after the lesson Janey gave her tonight.
“Sethie is a cool name,” Janey says, stretching her arms above her head, staring at the ceiling. “That watermark looks like a horse head,” she adds.
“Where?” Sethie crosses the couch and puts her head beside Janey’s, leaning against her. “There.” Janey points, and then brings her arms down, around Sethie, “Can you see it?” she whispers.
“I see it now.” This makes Sethie relax, lean back against her new friend. They giggle. Shaw turns around to look at them.
“What’s so funny?”
“Girl stuff,” Janey says possessively.
“Girl stuff,” Sethie agrees.

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