Elena Vanishing: A Memoir, is a book by Elena and Clare B. Dunkle. It tells the true story of Elena’s struggle with anorexia. Co-written with her mother, Clare, Elena’s story with this disease is honest and hopeful.
The book is garnering glowing reviews —
“I was stunned by Elena Vanishing and have been thinking and talking about it ever since I finished it. Without glamorizing it, Elena deals frankly and honestly with an extreme disease, and leaves me with a sense of hope and strength.”
–Lily Myers, slam poet and author of Shrinking Women
“This authentic, painful story adds a valuable firsthand perspective on eating disorders.”
Local author Chris Barton has allowed us to share his conversation with Elena. To keep up with all of his great conversations with authors, and to be eligible to win free books from him — this month it’s Elena Vanishing — sign up for his newsletter.
Elena Dunkle and her mother, Clare Dunkle, have been among my favorite people for a while now. With the simultaneous publication of their new books, Elena Vanishing (by the two of them) and Hope and Other Luxuries (by Clare alone), they’ve also become two of my favorite memoirists.
These companion titles — geared toward YA and adult audiences, respectively, and both published by Chronicle — recount the Dunkles’ personal and family struggles with Elena’s eating disorder and her circuitous path toward recovery. Each book is eye-opening, inspiring, and thoroughly compelling.
Let’s hear from Elena about her book, which School Library Journal called “a powerful read. Heartbreaking. Real. Vivid . . . Highly recommended.”
Chris Barton: What role has writing, revising, and sharing your story played in your own recovery?
Elena Dunkle: The biggest gain from the writing process has been the journey I went through with my family. Anorexia is such a deceitful and lonely disorder that my relationship with my family was built completely around lies. As my mother and I journeyed through the process of writing the memoir, we had to break down many of them and confront them head on. Both of us wanted the book to be as completely honest and open as possible, and that meant shining a light on many things we had kept from one another.
It was very painful at the time but in the end was very liberating. Our relationship weathered the storm, and I truly feel we are that much stronger. We jokingly refer to the time put into the book as a form of family therapy, but it really was that: meeting in the middle, being brutally honest, apologizing and then building up a firmer foundation from there.
Revising the book was a lot harder than the original writing had been, which honestly surprised me. Parts of the book were very painful and having to go back and reread them over and over took a large amount of courage. Some things I just did not want to see on paper again, and I would have to verbally chant and pump myself up to read the edits in certain chapters. A lot more tears were shed than during the initial writing, and it was brutal to have to view my life through a microscope.
It did allow me to see some of the things that happened to me in almost a third-person perspective and allow myself a chance to grieve or mourn. I would say to myself, “Did this little fourteen-year-old deserve this?” and saw how much my life was actually shaped around my rape and subsequent anorexia. It was a very powerful and surreal experience. I feel stronger from it.
My recovery is on a good path right now, and I know that it partly has to do with being given the opportunity to share my story. The number of men and women who have come up to me to share trauma from their own lives has been overwhelming and moving. I am honored to be allowed to spread a message of fighting against sexual abuse and anorexia, to voice the love I have for my unborn child, and to receive so many voices speaking up in return. It strengthens my resolve to not isolate myself, and to live openly and honestly with myself. Recovery is impossible without the walls coming down first. Every person that shares their story with me, helps me remember that. Fear and shame must be stripped away. Only then can the soul truly heal.
Thinking back I would never have expected to be so excited to have this book come out and how much it would impact my recovery in a positive way. It has allowed in people that I would have never expected, and has allowed me to face all of my demons head-on. Shining a light into all of my hidden secrets and corners has allowed me to come to terms with me, my rape, my loss, my disorder, and really start the journey of living.
CB: Beyond readers with firsthand experience with eating disorders, what audience do you most hope to reach with Elena Vanishing?
Elena: The worst part about a mental disorder or the aftermath of a sexual trauma is the utter and terrifying isolation that comes with it. It is its own circle of hell. There are so many unanswered questions and fears that do not seem to have an outlet. I hope that anyone experiencing that isolation and that crippling anxiety will find comfort in this book — no matter what the cause, be it bullying or abuse or loss — knowing that someone on this big blue planet went through those same thoughts and fears and lived to tell the tale. I hope that teens who know someone with an eating disorder will put down this book and realize that behind every person is a story. That there is no black and white in life, only gray.
I want this book to start conversations. I want teens to be able to read this book and talk about it. The more rape and anorexia are discussed, the less stigma and shame they will have.
And most of all, I want anyone who is feeling confused and agonized to find solace in this book. To see that I may not have any answers to the questions that keep them up at night, but that I asked those same questions to myself in the dark. And I hope beyond hope that that will bring some comfort to all those tired minds desperately seeking it.
Copies of Elena Vanishing will soon be available on our shelves and is available to order via bookpeople.com.