The Tragedy and Glory of Growing Up
Ballantine Books ($18)
by Lindsey Jodts
Harry Potter fans’ initial interest in The Opposite of Butterfly Hunting may be to dive into the story of the actress behind one of the franchise’s most delightful and curious characters. Surely a character as carefree and unapologetically herself as Luna Lovegood must be played by someone just as delightful and whimsical. But from the start (as cued by the subtitle), readers are instead drawn into the world of a charming but complex girl becoming a woman, and the book will impress readers with its witty but tender commentary far beyond any behind-the-scenes secrets.
Evanna Lynch offers here a very personal account of becoming aware of herself as a human in a body and the subsequent journey she took to avoid adulthood at all costs. She carries readers with her through her war with perfectionism and profound sense of unworthiness during her years-long battle with anorexia, an illness around which she forms not only an identity, but a sense of security. Her candid account of the mind of a person with anorexia is both brutal and insightful, told with equal parts sarcastic wit and profound empathy. She recounts with almost jarring clarity stories of her medical treatment, family dynamics, and return to creative exploration as she bounced between the poles of existence and uncertainty.
Lynch does spend time telling the Harry Potter portions of her story, but she doesn’t become the Luna that fans came to know and love until nearly two thirds of the way through. She never, in fact, becomes the tidily recovered former anorexic the media portrayed her to be either. To paint her this way was a profound injustice to her journey and the complicated woman that she is. The length and wordiness of her memoir may seem intimidating initially, but Lynch makes no mistake in her choice of language as she tells her story on her terms. Every word, every aside, every snarky observation and gut-wrenching moment of vulnerability is worth it.
A significant amount of criticism of the treatment of eating disorders, and mental health treatment in general, makes it clear from the first pages that this book is not a “how-to” guide to recovery from disordered eating. The author’s careful description of her struggles, and her intentional lack of detail around weight, measurement, and behaviors, are all purposeful attempts to make this book about her journey and not about becoming a “better anorexic” (a phrase that can mean very different things). Lynch’s insight into the needs of a person struggling with disordered eating to feel connected to presence, purpose, and a more creative sense of the world is much more valuable.
Whether eliciting loud cackles, grief-filled groans, or hopeful tears, The Opposite of Butterfly Hunting makes readers keenly aware of the power of our own inner voice to control the war between contempt and celebration of the body and all its creative, embodied expressions. The final pages of Lynch’s memoir describe the glory of her journey perfectly: “My negative thoughts interrupt my practice rudely, telling me it’s impossible, that it was pathetic to imagine my woefully ordinary body could ever manage such impressive feats, but I no longer indiscriminately believe this voice . . . I know something I didn’t before: that secretly, though we may never discover them all, the body contains miracles.”
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