The Shape of Us by Lisa Ireland

In brief: Four women meet in a weight loss online forum and become good friends. Together, they learn that there’s more than weight to happiness in unexpected, sometimes heart-wrenching ways.

The good: Fun to read about the different women and their lives, plus I loved the online posts.

The not-so-good: I really did not see the ending coming – powerful, beautiful and heartbreaking.

Why I chose it: I love Lisa Ireland’s books, thank you to Pan Macmillan for the copy.

Year: 2017

Pages: 384

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Setting: Country and urban Australia

Rating: 9 out of 10

Lisa Ireland is a top-notch Aussie author for me, as I’ve loved her rural romances. The Shape of Us marks her first foray into women’s fiction (a term I do not like, but seems to be recognised globally – can’t we say general fiction?) with the story of four women, all quite different, but with one common goal to lose weight. It’s a topic that nearly any woman will recognise and empathise with – the need to lose that few kilos or more (especially as I’m writing this over Easter where chocolate is practically on tap). But don’t dismiss this book as The Biggest Loser in story form, it’s a strong exploration into friendships and the willingness to go the extra mile for those you love. Plus, the ending is incredibly powerful.

The Shape of Us begins as a new round of the W.O.N. (Weight Off Now!) forum swings into action. Four women introduce themselves – Ellie, Mezz, Kat and Jewels. Jewels is known to the W.O.N. community as snide Shelley (moderator, weight loser extraordinaire and all round smug snob) reminds us, having failed previously. But this time will be different as Jewels desperately wants a baby and weight loss may help her conceive. Ellie moved from England to Canberra for love. Now she rarely sees her partner, is stuck in a job she could do in her sleep and turns to food for comfort. Mezz is the eternal outside in a country town – the GP of no one’s choice and barely sees her kids, who have a few problems. Kat has had a baby, the incredibly cute Ami and she’s worried that Josh is about to stray because of her weight.

The women bond over the forum and eventually decide to leave W.O.N. and Shelley for a secret blog. It becomes much more than weight loss as they share their problems and fears. When they all meet in person, their bond grows stronger than ever. But it will be tested as the women try to lose weight in different, sometimes extreme ways but even more as unexpected events occur.

Lisa Ireland has written a book that explores women’s friendships, warts and all. I loved the outspoken Jewels, who calls a spade a spade (yet won’t always take that kind of directness from others). Ellie was the quiet achiever who really grew on me as a character. She’s calm, kind and has a degree of acceptance that most of us could only hope to achieve. Mezz is harried, busy and unhappy – it’s not until she reluctantly takes a hard look at herself that she can see where the cracks are. Yet she’s utterly determined to do the right thing for her friends. Kat is the youngest, sweet and hiding a tumultuous past. Yet she is the wisest of the bunch! The main characters are drawn beautifully, with memorable quirks and traits that will leave them whole in your head long after the book is finished.

I also liked that The Shape of Us didn’t have any quick fixes for weight loss and that the women didn’t instantly become size 6 supermodels. It explores many methods of weight loss; some sensible, some with absolutely no evidence (aka hokey). I liked how the weight loss theme continued through the story but became more of a background feature as the women opened up more to each other. I really didn’t expect the event towards the end that changed the lighter tone of the book – it was heartbreaking! It was powerfully and sensitively written and reaffirmed that Lisa Ireland is one of my favourite Aussie writers.

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