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Book Review: Adas Rules by Alice Randall

 Book Review: Adas Rules by Alice Randall

[Ada] admired great big women. When she was small, she had coveted their authority, their beauty, and their significance. Then she got some for her own damn self.

A Nashville, Tennessee native, Ada Howard has spent her entire life internalising the narratives that surround the large black women in her community: these are the women that run the church, the committees, and who are looked upon as strong and powerful. And though Ada knows that some of her own weight gain is to do with having to juggle her family commitments and her long work hours at the KidPlay daycare centre, she knows that its partly to do with the fact that she has always wanted to become one of these women whom she so respects and admires.

But when Ada receives an invitation to her twenty-five year college reunion, and with it an invitation of sorts from her old college days flame, she begins to reconsider things. At fifty, shes already lost her three sisters, and she sees her mortality looming large in her ailing mothers eyes. And so she becomes determined to change her bodyand her life with itfor the better. But weight loss in a culture and community that values and looks up to large women is not simply a matter of calories in, calories out: its a social and political decision as well.

Ada fears that by losing weight shell be buying into a foreign concept of beauty and thumbing her nose at the community she so treasures. She fears that shell be undermining the authority and status that she and those around her have worked so hard to achieve. In one scene, for example, Ada frets over only ordering a small salad and a glass of water when dining out at a fancy restaurant: ordering up big, you see, is a way of proving to the world that she has the means to do so. And then there are her concerns over whether her husband Preach, who loves larger women, will continue to love her when theres less of her to love.

But as Ada slowly changes her habits and personal narratives relating to food, she learns that the diet is only a small part of the change shes longing to effect. Her new habits are about focusing on herself, affording herself time and care enough that shes in a better frame of mind to be able to achieve the things she wants to. By sleeping more, drinking less, and getting out and about, her outlook changes, and despite her concerns, she becomes stronger than ever. Its not merely the weight loss thats causing this change, however; its all part of a larger shift in ideology.

Ada had treasured the seclusion fat afforded, we hear towards the end of her journey. And Ada had enjoyed using her body as a hard-to-read symbol. Ada was ready to be done with all that. Her body was not a metaphor or an aide-memoire. It was her body.

Throughout, Randall offers a thoughtful examination on the role and power of the body, and how identity can be so readily shaped by physicality and the associations made with it. She also reflects on the changing cultural attitudes towards food and dining habits, looking often to skinny old folk for their take on the shifts theyve seen in their lifetimes. Get back to your food roots. Peanuts and sweet potatoes are the mama and daddy of soul food, preaches an old woman in the supermarket when Ada reaches for a low-fat, low-taste snack. I dont know why you young people insist on thinking of fried chicken and Kool-Aid and God knows what else as soul food.

The book does, however, at times vacillate uncomfortably between novel and diet manual. The chapters are headed things such as Dont Stay off the Wagon When You Fall off the Wagon and, perhaps as unsubtly as its possible to get, Identify and Learn from Iconic Diet Books, and characters frequently pop up out of nowhere to cheer Ada on her way to the weight loss finish line. Theres a good deal about diet types, diet aids, and cooking meals to suit different metabolic types, and these often nudge the book over towards the diet handbook side of things.

Given its positioning of itself as a cheerleader for weight loss and change, its little surprise that the book is unassailably upbeat and optimistic. But its sometimes so much so that it fails to capitalise on the complexity that Randall offers up every now and then, and there are moments where you can almost imagine a group waving attagirl! pom poms in the backgroundthese occur mostly at the very end of the book. In particular theres the'jaw dropping sermon delivered by Adas preacher husband about, erm, not having entered Eden often enough of late, and his subsequent impassioned demands that everyone show their partner some love, as well as the fact that when Ada approaches her friends about her concerns about her marriage, they all but bow at her feet in validating the love that she and Preach share. Its heart-warming, but sometimes sweeter than the high fructose corn syrup that Ada is trying so hard to avoid.

Although Im not going to pretend to be anything but an Aussie white girl whose understanding of black culture in the American south is superficial at best, I did appreciate the food for thought (if youll pardon the pun) relating to how food and body shape influence perception of self in this community. On the whole, forays into the diet book realm aside, this ones a winner: Randalls exposition is sharp and cutting, her dialogue witty and zingyif occasionally too sparing with the speech identifiersand the sheer determination of Ada as she sets herself towards becoming more in touch with who she wants to be is admirable.'

Rating: star Book Review: Adas Rules by Alice Randallstar Book Review: Adas Rules by Alice Randallstar Book Review: Adas Rules by Alice Randallblankstar Book Review: Adas Rules by Alice Randallblankstar Book Review: Adas Rules by Alice Randall (good)

With thanks to Bloomsbury Australia for the review copy

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 Book Review: Adas Rules by Alice Randall Book Review: Adas Rules by Alice Randall Book Review: Adas Rules by Alice Randall


  1. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out /

    Sounds like a lecture more than a storynot one for me I am afraid!

    • Stephanie /

      I really liked the first half of the book, but the diet tips and the oh-so-happy ending pulled it down a little for me. I would like to check out some of her earlier work, though.

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