Eat Your Heart Out Is a Horrifying Satire of ‘80s Teen Movies With a Fat Camp Twist
Fat camp stories have seemingly been done to death (pun intended), but Kelly deVos’s latest, Eat Your Heart Out, gives diet culture a horrifying new satirical spin. Imagine your favorite ‘80s teen zombie movie set at an elite fat camp and you’re getting close to the smart, funny, and scary Eat Your Heart Out. The novel is told in a unique alternating point-of-view format, focusing on each character who serves as an archetype from a stereotypical teen movie.
Vivian, the Action Girl, is the fearless captain of her soccer team and the de facto leader of the group. Steve, the Jock, or perhaps the Courageous Captain, is the camp counselor who needs money but doesn’t buy into the camp’s mission. Paul, the Jerk, is the son of the camp’s owner and a secret spy for his dad. Ali, the Basket Case, aspires to be a filmmaker and wants to make a documentary to end the camp forever. Smentkowski, the Nerd, is so smart that he may be the downfall of them all. Rachel, the Outcast, is hiding an even bigger secret than the rest of them from her preacher father.
Using ‘80s movie tropes and the perspective of Ali’s filmmaking, deVos introduces us to each of the characters so we know who everyone is and where they stand—in other words, in terms of horror movie tropes, whether or not they will survive. Each arrives at the bougie fat camp for children of the rich and famous, over the Christmas holidays, with their own baggage, motives, and history.
Generally, each of them wonders why their parents would rather them go away to lose weight than be at home with them for the holidays. Specifically, Vivian and Ali, former best friends, have to face each other after a falling out. But things are only more complicated when they soon discover that not all is as it appears.
Once they arrive at the camp, things already seem awry as they encounter a loose animal in the woods—which seems anything other than natural. Once settled in their bunks, they’re instructed to eat a green bar for weight loss as part of an experiment, which other campers proclaim makes them lose tens of pounds overnight. It doesn’t take long for the campers to come together and realize that something strange is happening at the camp. With other campers disappearing, or transforming altogether, and no staff or outside help to turn to, Vivian and her friends will have to figure out how to survive it together.
Eat Your Heart Out mashes up the best tropes of scary ’80s classics and zombie movies with the unique body diversity of fat characters rarely seen in the action or horror genre. Along with being a page-turning horror romp, the novel provides a smart and incisive mystery about what the corporation that runs the camp is doing to its campers, and the ways in which it abuses fat people. deVos smartly scrutinizes the impacts of diet culture while humanizing those it hurts the most.
While we’re told who the characters are and what their fates will likely be from the first pages, each one of them still goes on a distinct and dynamic arc. By having Ali, the filmmaker, engage in a metatextual conversation with her fellow campers about which archetype they are, they each have the chance to lean into or away from their own destinies, showing that no one’s fate is set in stone.
(It’s worth noting that the novel may be triggering for those who have suffered from body dysmorphia, disordered eating, fatphobia, or other issues, which the author briefly addresses in an author’s note at the beginning of the novel: “… when you create a culture where people can be dehumanized for trivial reasons like body size, everyone’s human dignity is in jeopardy. I … hope you read with care if these topics are ones close to your heart.”)
Overall, Eat Your Heart Out is a savvy and scary page-turner of a summer read with plenty of feeling. Readers will find a little bit of everything in its pages—humor, romance, action, adventure, terror, satire, mystery, and more. By the novel’s end, the body count is high, and the loss is felt, but the survivors of the camp have also gone through remarkable change. No moment is unearned or unnecessary, an important trait in a horror novel featuring typically marginalized characters. While it’s an absurdist take on diet culture, deVos uses Eat Your Heart Out to analyze the very real tolls of fatphobia. Readers looking for more stories about fat characters, clever twists on zombie thrillers, or unique found family structures will love deVos’s latest, a fantastic read to finish off your summer.
(image: Penguin Young Readers Group)
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