6 reviews

by Sarai Walker

Published: 2015-05-26
Hardcover : 320 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 6 of 6 members

A Best Book of the Year

Entertainment Weekly • Bustle • Amazon • Women’s National Book Association • Kirkus ReviewsBookPage • Kobo • LitReactor
“Audacious and ...
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A Best Book of the Year

Entertainment Weekly • Bustle • Amazon • Women’s National Book Association • Kirkus ReviewsBookPage • Kobo • LitReactor
“Audacious and gutsy and heartbreaking — Dietland completely blew me away.” — Jennifer Weiner

The diet revolution is here. And it’s armed.
Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. With her job answering fan mail for a teen magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. But when a mysterious woman in colorful tights and combat boots begins following her, Plum falls down a rabbit hole into the world of Calliope House — an underground community of women who reject society’s rules — and is forced to confront the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a guerilla group begins terrorizing a world that mistreats women, and Plum becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive.

“A giddy revenge fantasy that will shake up your thinking and burrow under your skin” (Entertainment Weekly), Dietland takes on the beauty industry, gender inequality, and our weight-loss obsession — with fists flying.

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of May 2015: Warning: this debut novel from a onetime writer for Seventeen and Mademoiselle is not what it might at first seem to be: a funny send-up of the beauty industry and the media that support it. Well, ok, it is that, at least for the first 50 pages or so, but it soon becomes one of the more intelligent, and not a little subversive, depictions of women in our society. Oh, drat: that makes it sound brainy and Feminism 101-y, which is not right, either. So... trying again. Read Dietland, the tale of a young, overweight woman who hides behind a skinny-girl persona to write an advice column for a women’s magazine – and is soon drawn into an underground community of women who forthrightly and fabulously reject that culture. Read it not only because it’s smart and timely (and shocking: it explicitly takes on the adult film culture as well), but because it’s heartbreaking and tragic and very very comic (as long as you like your laughs dark) and because it will guarantee that you never look at a lipstick or a pair of stilettos or a bathroom scale the same way again. Sarai Walker is some kind of twisted sister. And of course I mean that as the highest possible compliment. – Sara Nelson


It was late in the spring when I noticed that a girl was following me, nearly the end of May, a month that means perhaps or might be. She crept into the edges of my consciousness like something blurry coming into focus. She was an odd girl, tramping around in black boots with the laces undone, her legs covered in bright fruit-hued tights, like the colors in a roll of Life Savers. I didn’t know why she was following me. People stared at me wherever I went, but this was different. To the girl I was not an object of ridicule but a creature of interest. She would observe me and then write things in her red spiral-bound notebook.

The first time I noticed the girl in a conscious way was at the café. On most days I did my work there, sitting at a table in the back with my laptop, responding to messages from teenage girls. Dear Kitty, I have stretch marks on my boobs, please help. There was never any end to the messages and I usually sat at my table for hours, sipping cups of coffee and peppermint tea as I gave out the advice I wasn’t qualified to give. For three years the café had been my world. I couldn’t face working at home, trapped in my apartment all day with nothing to distract me from the drumbeat of Dear Kitty, Dear Kitty, please help me.

One afternoon I looked up from a message I was typing and saw the girl sitting at a table nearby, restlessly tapping her lime green leg, her canvas bag slouched in the chair across from her. I realized that I’d seen her before. She’d been sitting on the stoop of my building that morning. She had long dark hair and I remembered how she turned to look at me. Our eyes met and it was this look that I would remember in the months to come, when her face was in the newspapers and on TV — the glance over the shoulder, the eyes peeking out from the thick black liner that framed them.

After I noticed her at the café that day, I began to see her in other places. When I emerged from my Waist Watchers meeting, the girl was across the street, leaning against a tree. At the supermarket I spotted her reading the nutrition label on a can of navy beans. I made my way around the cramped aisles of Key Food, down the canyons of colorful cardboard and tin, and the girl trailed me, tossing random things into her shopping basket (cinnamon, lighter fluid) whenever I turned to look at her.

I was used to being stared at, but that was by people who looked at me with disgust as I went about my business in the neighborhood.

They didn’t study me closely, not like this girl did. I spent most of my time trying to blend in, which wasn’t easy, but with the girl following me it was like someone had pulled the covers off my bed, leaving me in my underpants, shivering and exposed.

Walking home one evening, I could sense that the girl was behind me, so I turned to face her. “Are you following me?”

She removed tiny white buds from her ears. “I’m sorry? I didn’t hear you.” I had never heard her speak before. I had expected a flimsy voice, but what I heard was a confident tone.

“Are you following me?” I asked again, not as bold as the first time.

“Am I following you?” The girl looked amused. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She brushed past me and continued on down the sidewalk, being careful not to trip on the tree roots that had burst through the concrete.

As I watched the girl walk away, I didn’t yet see her for who she was: a messenger from another world, come to wake me from my sleep. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. Who is the “messenger from another world” (4) who seems to be following Plum at the start of the story? Plum says that the girl has come to “wake [her] from [her] sleep” (4). What does she mean by this? Would you say that the girl was successful?

2. Plum confesses that when she thinks of her life “back then” she “saw [herself] as an outline...waiting to be filled in” (5). What did she feel was lacking or missing in her life at that time? What does she believe will allow her to feel complete? Is she correct?

3. Plum responds to those who write to the advice column of a teen magazine. What kinds of questions do the girls ask? What do the people who write in seem to have in common? What kind of advice does Plum give them? What does Plum mean when she says that “people could be deleted, switched off” (10)? Does she maintain this point of view throughout the entire story? Why or why not?

4. Why does the girl who follows Plum write the word “Dietland” on Plum’s hand? What does Plum initially think this means? What does her response reveal about her character? Is she correct? What is Dietland?

5. When Plum and her mother are living at Aunt Delia’s house, people often stop to take photographs. What does Plum believe they are taking pictures of? What are these people actually taking pictures of? How does this detail tie in with the major themes of the novel?

6. What is Plum’s real name? How did she get her nickname and what does she see as the difference between the two identities? How does this change over the course of the story? What other characters could be said to have—or have had—more than one identity? What does this indicate about identity and womanhood?

7. How does Plum’s mother respond to her daughter’s weight loss efforts? Why do you think that she responds in this way? Do you agree with her reaction? What kinds of things does Plum try in her attempts to lose weight? Are any of the methods successful? What does Plum mean when she says that she was a Baptist?

8. How does Julia initially reach out to Plum? What question does she ask Plum and how does Plum respond? Do you agree with Plum’s answer? How is this opinion supported or otherwise refuted in the story?

9. What is Calliope House and who runs it? Who lives there and why do they live there? How did the house get its name? How does the history of the house tie in with the major themes of the novel? What purpose does the house ultimately seem to serve?

10. Who is dropped out of the plane? Who are the Dirty Dozen? What do the people who are murdered have in common? What would you say is the link among all of them? Are there murders shocking? Why or why not?

11. What is the New Baptist Plan? What steps does it include? How does it differ from the other plans she has tried? What results does the plan seem to have? Would you say that it is successful for Plum? Why or why not?

12. How does Marlowe meet or defy Plum’s initial expectations of what she will be like? What does Marlowe say was the best day of her life and why? What does Marlowe mean when she says that “Being a woman means being a faker” (145)? Do you agree with her point of view? Explain.

13. Why does Plum go underground at Calliope House? What does this entail? How does the experience ultimately affect Plum? Is she different after her reemergence? If so, how has she changed?

14. How does Marlowe suggest that women should deal with sexual objectification? Do you agree? Explain.

15. What does Plum identify as the major benefit of being overweight? What is she able to do as a result of her weight that slimmer women cannot? How does this help her?

16. How is Jennifer portrayed in the media and how do people respond to these reports? What is “the Jennifer effect”? What role does the media seem to play in the way that Jennifer is portrayed and understood? Plum says that people “talked about what was happening as if it were a Western” (212). What does she mean by this? How does this tie in with the way that we relate to the media today?

17. How does Sana’s relationship to other young woman influence or change Plum’s reaction or relationship to the young woman who write to her for advice? What common trauma does Plum ultimately realize all of the women share? How is this trauma defined? Is there a way for this trauma to be avoided?

18. Who is Jennifer? Is Jennifer a single person or a group of people? What is Soledad’s relationship to Jennifer? Do you believe that Soledad’s actions and the actions of Jennifer are justifiable in some way? Discuss. What motivates the actions that Jennifer is responsible for?

19. What kinds of confrontations does Plum face as she undergoes her transformation? Who initiates these confrontations and what causes them? How does Plum handle each one? Are these confrontations surprising? Could they have been avoided? If so, how?

20. Does Plum ultimately go through with the weight loss surgery? Why or why not? Do you think that she made the right decision? Does she ultimately succeed in transforming herself in the way that she had hoped?

21. Why does Verena say that “Virginia Woolf once wrote that it’s more difficult to kill a phantom than a reality” (292)? What do you think she means by this? Do you agree?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

"In this slyly subversive feminist novel, 300-pound Plum plans to get her stomach stapled until a mysterious group of women convinces her otherwise–just as a militant, anonymous band of vigilantes called"Jennifer" begins wreaking havoc on bad men: dropping rapists from planes, blackmailing CEOs of exploitative newspapers, and inspiring regular ladies to do the same. Word of warning: while you may be inclined to try this at home, it's probably better left in Walker's competent hands and on her incendiary pages for now."--Entertainment Weekly's Best Books of 2015 (#5)

Book Club Recommendations

Highly satirical, yet very insightful
by [email protected] (see profile) 03/08/17
The satire is over the top, yet understandable when looking at the broader picture of the author's intention.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Emmanuelle H. (see profile) 11/08/19

by jenn d. (see profile) 11/09/18

by Ashley I. (see profile) 04/30/18

by Christy E. (see profile) 04/02/18

by Kelly D. (see profile) 07/11/17

  "Dietland"by Kathy V. (see profile) 03/08/17

A very dark, yet revealing look into the violence of dieting and the correlation between dieting and other forms of oppression. It's worth it to stick with this novel, even though language and graphic... (read more)

  "Dietland"by Marty K. (see profile) 02/03/16

I started this book thinking it would be the story of a woman's journey regarding her weight loss. Instead, I was the one on the journey. This was an eye opening book, not just on the unfairness women... (read more)

  "Dietland"by Julie R. (see profile) 12/29/15

Very thought provoking book about an individual (Plum) who is described as morbidly obese and how this fact ruled her life until she met someone that opened her eyes. I was confused by a sudden plot twist... (read more)

by Kaitlyn W. (see profile) 08/15/15

  "Fighting 'THECHUB'"by Connie S. (see profile) 07/23/15

As one who has owned a business in the weight loss industry, as well as having waged my own battle with 'THE CHUB', I loved this book! It was unique in many ways. The heroine, Plum, is waiting to begin... (read more)

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