By: Rebecca Glenski Coppage, Project Heal Chapter Leader – Kansas City
My name is Rebecca Glenski Coppage and I am the author of My Perfect Little Secret. I used to have a perfect little secret, and now I’m telling the whole world. Because it’s a perfect little secret that way too many girls and boys, men and women carry around with them, locked away in their closets.And I want to do something about that.
My Perfect Little Secret is about a teenage girl who develops an eating disorder. This is the back cover of the novel:
On the first day of sophomore year, Lillian Grace Parker organizes handouts with sticky tabs,assigns different colored highlighters to each class, and loads the whole thing into a bubblegum-pink binder. Lilly’s pencil-straight brown hair and a sea of freckles feel even more annoying to her with the few extra pounds she’s gained over summer break. But Lilly never met a problem she can’t fix. As the number on the scale goes down, Lilly keeps changing her goal to a lower weight. Everything’s going even better than planned. She’s got a BFF who’s awesome, all A’s (not to mention every extra credit available),and on the soccer field, she’s scoring goal after goal. Best of all, she’s head over heels in love with Sean, the quirky, sensitive guy who sweeps her off her feet the first week of school. Then why doesn’t she feel good? Lilly thinks if she can just lose a few more pounds all her troubles will melt away. With coffee for breakfast, her favorite foods on the NO EAT list, and her dog getting fat from the scraps she’s feeding her under the table, Lilly is losing not only pounds, but herself. When Lilly collapses on the soccer field, she’s forced to make one of the biggest decisions of her life. Will she continue to lie to everyone she loves to hide her little secret and maintain her distorted version of a perfect body or will she have the courage to fight for her life and see herself for more than the reflection in the mirror?
I wrote this book about a teenage girl struggling with an eating disorder because it’s something I am very familiar with. It was easy for me to write about something I know and understand so well. I also wrote about this topic because I feel like there are not enough novels out there for teenagers that have a strong character who is dealing with an eating disorder. There are tons of self-help books and textbooks about eating disorders, but I don’t think that’s what teens want to read. I wish a book like mine had existed when I was in high school, and that made me want to write it for teenagers now. Several people have asked me if it was hard to write about such a painful thing when it’s so personal. To be honest,writing this book was very freeing for me. An eating disorder is a difficult topic to write and talk about but so many people suffer from this in silence. It is a problem that touches so many teenagers all over the country, and all I had to do was remind myself of that when the writing became difficult. I want my book to be a voice and to help teenagers feel like they have someone to relate to.
Another question that I’ve often gotten is why I chose to make a novel instead of a memoir. For me, there was never a thought of a memoir. I didn’t want to tell my story. While having an eating disorder is a subject very familiar to me, I didn’t want to write about myself. I wanted to create a character, explore her life, and tell her story. It was fun to have the creative freedom to develop Lilly and to not worry about if I was getting the facts straight. I’m not going to deny that Lilly’s character and her life have many similarities to mine when I was in high school, but this novel is not the story of my life.
The road to publication was one of the most difficult parts about writing my novel. It was so incredibly long and difficult. It was filled with a lot of rejection and a lot of waiting. The worst parts of trying to get your book published are the rejection letters from agents saying they aren’t interested in your book. It is also hard to hear criticism of your book when you have spent so much time working on it and developing it. It was especially difficult for me because many of my rejection letters stated they weren’t interested in my book because it was an “issues” book. Essentially, they don’t want to represent a book about an eating disorder because it’s a controversial topic. Even with all the pitfalls, I kept my head up and persevered until I found people who were excited about my book. Now here I am with a published book! I think one of my biggest joys on the road to publishing was receiving my first few reviews! Reading all the positive feedback and finding out that teenagers really enjoyed and related to my book was amazing!
I hope that people, especially teenagers, walk away from my book with a sense of being understood. Part of having an eating disorder is that it is this huge secret. No one talks about it but it is around us everywhere. So many people I talk to about my book reveal that they suffered from an eating disorder or that they struggled with poor self-image. If they didn’t, they know someone who did. I want readers to know that they are not alone. I also want the reader to know that having an eating disorder does not negate the fact that she is a normal person with hopes and dreams.
Although my novel is not my memoir, I get many questions about my own personal struggle withan eating disorder. Having an eating disorder changed and impacted my life in every aspect. It made high school and college a very difficult road for me. I protected my secret at all costs, which meant building walls and not getting close to people. I kept friends, boys, and family at a distance because I couldn’t let them find out about my eating disorder. It made it hard to socialize, to make new friends, to keep the friends I had. I didn’t get to have the typical college experience because halfway through my first semester, I had to leave to get treatment for my eating disorder. It made my dreams harder to accomplish, and it took away some really amazing opportunities. I missed out on building strong relationships, I missed out on dating opportunities, and I had to start college over. Keeping a wall up around you is exhausting and it makes every part of your life that much harder. That said, it made me a much stronger and more secure person after having gone through it. It has shaped the person that I have become today. It took many, many years for me to “get over” my eating disorder. The process has been long, with several relapses. Essentially, it consisted of learning to see myself in a different light and retraining my thought process regarding my body and my relationship with food. I credit my family and my husband for their support, love, and open minds with helping me heal.