By Maureen Lee Lenker
August 06, 2018 at 05:17 PM EDT
Penguin Random House

Some books take you away, others scare the living daylights out of you, and some make you ponder the mysteries of what it is to be human. But then there are those books that have the power to fundamentally alter our relationship with ourselves, to help us see things in an entirely new light. Kristan Higgins’ Good Luck With That, a searing, heart-rending examination of self-love and self-loathing, has the capacity to do just that.

The novel follows three friends — Emerson, Georgia, and Marley — who met as teens at a weight-loss camp and have maintained varying levels of closeness through their adult lives. When Emerson suddenly dies due to complications from her weight, her last wish is for Marley and Georgia to finish a list they made as teens. The list, which began as “things we’ll do when we’re thin,” becomes an engine for Marley and Georgia to confront lifelong demons and realize that the key to happiness is to start living for now, not when.

Nowadays, deciding to write about weight and self-image can be like willingly wading into a nest of vipers. It can feel impossible to get right, conveying body positivity while also expressing one’s rawest and most vulnerable truths. But it’s a challenge Higgins pulls off with a stunning, gut-wrenching frankness.

The first few chapters (and intermittent portions of the book thereafter) are excruciating to read — to be faced with the unkind thoughts, self-loathing, and litany of ways we bring ourselves down is anxiety-inducing, to say the least. It’s a testament to Higgins’ writing that no matter what your hang-ups are (or have been), you’ll likely recognize parts of yourself in the pages of the book.

Higgins wisely never specifies the actual size of Georgia or Marley, leaving it all to the perception of the reader, as well as the characters’ own thoughts and the thoughts of those around them. It’s an effective reminder that it’s never about the way we look so much as the way we see ourselves. Marley and especially Georgia have grappled with their weight their entire lives, but their journey is about learning to see how their need to cling to both past wounds and a far-off someday that might never come has prevented them from embracing the joys right there in front of them.

The story is a reminder of all the pressures we face to be “good enough,” whether that means a goal weight, job, relationship status, or something else entirely. We’ve all felt it, and how its burden might sometimes threaten to smother us. Higgins wisely imbues her pages with the heft of that pressure, delivering a bittersweet pain and sadness through Marley and Georgia (and an unutterable sadness through Emerson) that can make you feel as if she’s peering inside your own head. But she balances out the often painful (and familiar) inner monologue with genuine moments of triumph and small kindnesses that feel all the more immense for their simplicity. The story is one of hard-won victories that are far more heart-rending because of Higgins’ ability to capture the struggle to get there with such deep understanding and empathy.

Good Luck With That is many things: a paean to how it’s never too early (or too late) to be a little kinder to yourself, an inspiring meditation on how to embrace the supportive individuals in your life and stand up to the toxic ones, and a love story. Yes, the heroines engage in swoony romances, complete with grand romantic gestures designed to make readers a bit weepy. But the most powerful love story it tells is the one we can hopefully keep with us long after turning the final page — the story of learning to love oneself, and living a life that leads with that love, in all its joy, sorrow, failure, and triumph. A-