Louder Than Hunger

Louder Than Hunger

Written on 05/24/2024
Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

Author John Schu’s fictionalized novel-in-verse is based on his experiences as a 13-year-old who suffered from anorexia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and depression. Schu spent more than two years in and out of several inpatient and outpatient treatment programs and facilities.

Thirteen-year-old Jake—whose fictional life mirrors that of Schu in many details, but not all—is sensitive and kind. Life at home with his parents is depressing and difficult. Jake loves to spend time alone or with his affectionate, enthusiastic grandmother with whom he shares a delight in music and Broadway performances. In fact, his happiest memories—before the Voice told him he was repulsive and nobody loved him—were times spent with his grandmother. But now that seems like eons ago.

After years of bullying, Jake believes the voices of his peers who denigrate him constantly. He stops eating to make himself as small as possible and puts his faith in the Voice in his mind that tells him, “YOU ONLY NEED ME!”

When Jake finally receives the help he so desperately needs in order to survive, he encounters numerous people who refuse to let him starve himself to death and who teach him to share his stories and gifts. As Jake learns to interact with his peers in healthy ways and discovers new patterns for living, he talks back to the Voice, struggling to silence its oppressive lies. He finally understands that "anorexia nervosa / isn’t really / about food.”

Christian parents, caregivers, youth leaders, pastors, teachers, and anyone else who spends time with preteens and teens would do well to read Louder Than Hunger and to share it in an age-appropriate way with youth, helping to destigmatize mental illness and discussing the need for treatment, just as is necessary for physical illnesses. Though the protagonist Jake prays for help to an angel statue in the park near where he lives—he calls her Frieden—Christian adults can point youth to the truth of God’s priceless, unfailing love that offers refuge to people no matter what they are suffering. Though recommended for children ages 10-14, the book is better suited to ages 12 and older. (Candlewick)