Book Review: Hunger

Roxane Gay’s Hunger is a collection of the author’s complex thoughts about her body. In the memoir, Gay explores how a traumatic childhood event led to her weight gain, and examines how having an “unruly body” (as she calls it) has affected her self-image, relationships, and life experiences.

The book: Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

One of my favorite things about Hunger was Gay’s honesty and vulnerability. Throughout the memoir, Gay unapologetically portrays herself in all of her complexity, including her moments of pettiness and insecurity. Gay takes ownership of her body and her experiences, but she balances that self-possession with honesty about the ways in which she still struggles to accept herself. Listening to Hunger as an audiobook – which is narrated by Gay herself – especially accentuates her vulnerability.

In addition to being deeply moved by Hunger, I also learned a lot from it. Early in the memoir, Gay mentions that the upper-end of the “normal” BMI range was lowered in 1998. This infuriated me, because I have heard so many fear-mongering claims that the obesity “epidemic” in the United States has dramatically increased in the past 30ish years. None of those claims were accompanied by an acknowledgement that this “increase” is likely an artifact of the way we classify overweightness.

Hunger also opened my eyes to more obvious problems with the way fatness is treated in the United States; problems that should have been obvious to me, but that I had never considered before reading this book. An example of such a problem is the fact that overweight people experience eating disorders too. This hadn’t occurred to me before, because (as Gay points out) health class textbooks and the media generally don’t talk about eating disorders as something that overweight people struggle with. Another example is TV shows – like The Biggest Loser – which portray fatness as a problem to be combatted by any means necessary. Taken together, these examples paint a disturbing picture of how American society actively encourages unhealthy weight loss strategies. This hadn’t explicitly occurred to me before, but as Gay pointed out these problems, they immediately rang true.

Without summarizing the entire memoir, here are a few more of Gay’s critiques that really resonated with and moved me. First, I loved Gay’s idea that women in particular are pressured to be thin because thin women literally take up less space, and American society certainly isn’t ready for women to take up as much space as men. I also appreciated Gay’s point that no matter how powerful a woman becomes, she will never be exempt from critiques of her body (she cites Oprah as an example of this). Finally, I loved Gay’s idea that it is possible to know logically that your body doesn’t define your worth, yet simultaneously feel insecure about your body in a society that harshly judges appearances (especially women’s appearances).

My one critique of Hunger is that some of the chapters ended a bit abruptly, giving some of the stories an “unfinished” quality. Still, the writing was incredibly moving, and the chapters came together to create a beautiful and powerful memoir. I loved Hunger and would highly recommend it.

Trigger warnings: eating disorders, r*pe. Even if these aren’t normally triggers for you, Gay’s accounts of her experiences are so deeply personal that they might shake you up a bit.

Author: Hannah Celeste

Hi! I'm Hannah, a book-blogger from the Northeastern United States. I enjoy reading many genres, cooking and baking, doing yoga, and spending time with my two cats.

14 thoughts on “Book Review: Hunger”

  1. I love how this book managed to move you as well as teach you new things. Perfect combination! Body image and weight issues seem to such an important topic in society today and this books sounds like a great contribution to the debate.

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  2. Great review! I read this one a few years ago and found so much to appreciate and learn from it as well. It’s interesting that you found parts of the book abrupt though, I had the opposite sense that Gay seemed to circle back on a lot of her points in a rather repetitive way. But I always remember the book fondly regardless, it really packs a punch!

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    1. Thank you! Haha it’s interesting how we interpreted some of it so differently! I do agree that Gay circled back on a lot of her points, which is (one of the reasons) why the book worked well for me as a whole, but I though that some of the chapters themselves ended abruptly! I’ll always remember this one fondly too 🙂

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  3. This is actually the only Roxane Gay book that I’ve gotten on well with. I love the simple sentences she uses, and how she waited to write this book until she was fully ready to do so (she’s discussed this point in several articles). I’m glad you took so much from this memoir; in my quest to find books that are fat-positive, I often point out the ways people are discriminated against because they aren’t supposed to be happy. If you want something in-you-face, I HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend Dietland by Sarai Walker. It’s fiction, but it just blows your mind open on this conversation.

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    1. I can see why you liked this one so much! And I definitely appreciated that she waited until she was ready to write this, especially given your comments about “Unashamed.” And thank you for the recommendation for Dietland! Just added it to my TBR ^__^

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  4. This was already on my radar, but now you’ve made me really want to pick it up! I learned a lot from your review alone. While obesity isn’t exactly considered an epidemic here, the obsession with women’s body shape and weight is the same, and relatives often greet each other by commenting on weight—you grew thinner, bigger, etc—and the quantity of food you eat. Somehow, it’s looked down upon for girls be fat AND eat only a little, which is definitely confusing. I like that point about how women are told to be thin because it means they literally take up less space—makes me think of this in contrast to men, who, when they get fit, “bulk up” instead of “slim down” for women. Very thorough review, thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks Gil! The dynamic you described sounds confusing and frustrating to navigate! Also, your comment reminded me of this time at my grandparents house when we were eating dinner, everyone ate roughly the same amount of food. After we all ate what was on our plate, my grandma offered my grandpa and husband more food but not me!!! It felt very much about women not being supposed to eat as much as men.

      Anyway, I hope you enjoy this book if/when you get to it! It sounds like you’ll take a lot from it!

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      1. I have a similar experience—my brother is always offered more food, and if there’s not enough food for everyone the women are usually the ones who automatically opt to eat less to make way for the men. Granted, I DO eat less than my brother and most men, but it would be nice to be asked too, lol.

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