Room Empty, from YA writer Sarah Mussi, is a heartfelt no holds barred delve into the mind of Dani, ravaged by anorexia.
Dani is one of many teenagers staying at Daisy Bank Rehab Centre. She doesn’t credit the counsellors with any ability to help her, and instead spends her days earning points. If she reaches XX it means she is loved. She never reaches her self imposed total.
It's not until her friendship with Fletcher begins to flourish that we, the reader, appreciate just how ill Dani really is. Her thinness has caused severe physical weakness – even walking can be difficult.
As Fletcher and Dani get closer and closer, their relationship becomes more intense as they force each other to confront their fears and face their demons. But for both them, this is not straightforward. During a Circle Time mind exercise, when they are asked to tap into their earliest childhood memory, Dani gains a glimpse at a confronting and haunting truth from her past. An event from when she was four, an event that meant her name was changed. Who is she really? What happened to her, and who is the dead body in the corner of the room?
Mussi’s narrative has a realism and edge that grips the reader. It’s charged with intensity as Dani battles her mind, the alien inside her, for control over her body. There’s no easy solution to the problems that Dani, Fletcher and the other residents face – and Mussi’s strength lies in not pretending there is. Instead she presents their addictions and their illnesses as a multi-faceted part of their personalities that can’t be glossed over – there are ups, there are downs, it’s hard, really hard.
Room Empty is a frank and honest look at addiction, the power of love and friendship and a recognition that humans are incredibly complex beings.
Read My Book Corner's interview with Sarah Mussi here.