Small Displays of Chaos

4 August 2016

Small Displays of Chaos
by Breanna Fischer
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Kris Brandhagen
$12.95 9781550506617

Breanna Fischer’s book Small Displays of Chaos is about a girl from Saskatoon SK who develops an eating disorder during her last two years of high school. The main character, Rayanne Timko, assigns herself a fitness goal as part of a grade ten gym class project. She likes this because tracking calories appeals to her. In the beginning, her goal is “eat healthier, exercise more.” She earns the highest score for the assignment, but when it is over, she doesn’t want to stop. Fischer really gets inside the head of her character, juxtaposing action with stark, confessional journal entries. “Today I will count. Today I will starve. I will turn into myself like an imploding star. Just like yesterday.” As her obsession turns into addiction, she becomes her eating disorder. Without it, she doesn’t know who she is.

The main focus of the book is what happens in Rayanne’s mind as she starves herself, developing visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations of Edie (this could be a pun on ED, or eating disorder), taunting, pushing, and demanding that she lose more weight. When her parents confront her in tears, asking if she is trying to punish them, she thinks “everything in her life was supposed to be better when she was thinner. She was supposed to be more confident, have more friends, be smarter, be beautiful, more happy. She hadn’t meant to hurt anyone.” But she can’t say it. No matter how much people try to talk to her, to help her, she just keeps going, and her disorder escalates.

Fischer has a talent for suspense, flashbacks, and foreshadowing that keep the reader intrigued. The story has well-placed areas of relief. For contrast, Rayanne has a crush on a boy, which provides some common threads that serve to make the story more palatable, universalizing the characters. The reader gains a sense of who Rayanne is when she is not in her head, but interacting with others. In addition to this, she volunteers at a dog shelter, where, in a beautifully written scene, Rayanne finds connection with a dog who is terrified of noise, and denies itself food and comfort. The dog shelter is the only place where Rayanne feels calm, where she can breathe easily.

Though the book is marketed for a young adult readership, the insights into the characters’ minds could also be quite helpful for the guardians of those who suffer from eating disorders. I have been fortunate not to have suffered from anorexia or bulimia, but I am not without vice, and I identify with Rayanne at times throughout the book. It is stated in Breanna Fischer’s biography that the book is based on her own experience. It is very brave and courageous to admit that, and it only strengthens the experience for the reader. In my opinion, people who have not had such experience in their own lifetime could not possibly write so convincingly on the subject.


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