The title written out in highlighter colorful words.

About the Book

Title: My Mad Fat Diary
Published: 2007
Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Cover Story: Write Me Like One Of Your English Diaries
BFF Charm: Yay!
Talky Talk: Dear Diary
Bonus Factors: British Slang, The 80s, 80s Wizard of Oz Musical
Relationship Status: Old Friend

Cover Story: Write Me Like One Of Your English Diaries

This cover definitely trades on the fact that My Mad Fat Diary is an excellent, attention-grabbing title, so it makes sense that the cover is designed like a marker-adorned teenage diary. It’s neither too twee nor too staid, so thumbs up.

The Deal:

This is the somewhat edited, actual 1989 diary of 17-year-old Rae Earl. Rae is music-obsessed, boy-crazy, really sick of her constantly dieting mum and her Moroccan stepfather…and she’s fat. Her fatness informs nearly every entry, from documenting what she ate to comfort herself, to what she imagines it would be like to be thin, to the reason she thinks she doesn’t have a boyfriend. Rae thinks it’s her defining trait, but her inner life is full of hilarious (and often judgmental) commentary on everyone and everything from fashion, to music, to the skinny girls, to the grumpy guy friend she code-names “Haddock.”

This is the source material for the (excellent) British TV show of the same name, slightly repackaged and retitled for an American audience. Step back into a time where Kylie Minogue was supposed to be a flash in the pan, cell phones didn’t exist, and you had to go to the record store to buy music.

BFF Charm: Yay!

Yay BFF Charm

I almost thought about Single White Femaling this BFF charm, but I’d rather set myself on fire than be 17 again, unless it came with untold riches, international travel, and Seth Cohen as my boyfriend. (I miss my 17-year-old energy, but aside from that, HELL NO.) Rae is prime BFF material, though—despite her judgments, she’s a legitimately good friend, and her social commentary is on point. Her mental and physical health struggles make her fairly empathetic, at least as far as a teenager can be, and I can definitely remember and relate to the days where I thought I would never, ever have a date. Plus, anyone who can dedicate themselves to journaling every day is pretty awesome in my book. 

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

There’s some (painfully) slowly-developing romance here, as well as false starts and ridiculous infatuation, but nothing like the Rae and Finn relationship arc of the TV show. As long as you’re not reading this for the romance, you won’t be disappointed.

Talky Talk: Dear Diary

“There is a new codeword going round school. DFS. It means ‘desperate for sex.’ It sounds like you are talking about the furniture shop. For the record, I’m certainly DFS. In fact I am permanently shopping in DFS with no hope of getting out of the store.”

Here’s the thing you need to know going into this book: if you’re expecting it to have the same narrative arc as the TV show, you’re going to be disappointed. Earl notes in the prologue that the diary is only slightly edited (such as “Bethany” being a conglomeration of mean girls), and real life rarely wraps up so neatly. Don’t go in because RAE + FINN 4EVA (which: swoon, in the TV show), go in for the unflinchingly honest commentary about body image and fatness in a world that equates fat to laziness. Go in for the cringeworthy boy-mad entries, the passionate discussion of pop music…and the teenage poetry. (ADMIT IT, you wrote it too.)

“There was this one model in French Elle. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be her. She was brunette with big lips and was wearing this tight navy dress by Azzedine someone. She was so beautiful; and the choices she must have. and…Oh, I would give it all up just to have been born that way because her life will be so easy. She won’t have to think, and men will fall into her lap and…It’s all unfair and I don’t want to even write it.

It will never change, and no one wants to admit it but being thin and pretty is the best thing a woman can be.”

“Caught myself singing ‘The Right Stuff’ by the New Kids today. Yes, I’m disgusted with myself.”

Bonus Factor: British Slang

Cover of a SVH book.

Remember that time Jessica Wakefield decided she didn’t have enough pretension in her life, so she dyed her hair black, got new clothing, and started speaking in a faux-European-accent-of-indeterminate-origin? If only she had read this, she could have added so much slang to her repertoire!

The glossary is at the beginning of the book, thank you sweet editors, as well as notes about the English school system, and the exams Rae is so worried about passing. Let’s just say that while I consider myself a fairly dedicated Anglophile, there was plenty of slang that would’ve gone over my head without the glossary or the aid of Google. Soon you’ll call everyone a sarcy cow and know how to flip people off in England, too!

Bonus Factor: The 80s

A cassette tape that says "the '80s" on it

Not only does the Berlin Wall coming down feature in this book, but so does George Michael and the advent of CDs. Oh, 80s, you were a strange time. (Rae’s love of Morrissey, however, is timeless.)

Bonus Factor: 80s Wizard of Oz Musical

The characters of Wizard of Oz with arms linked, walking down the yellow brick road

I don’t want to spoil this for you, so I won’t name names, but Rae is in charge of directing and choreographing a Wizard of Oz song-and-dance to some CLASSIC 80s tunes. Picturing this makes me SO SAD that the TV show didn’t go that route.

Relationship Status: Old Friend

Book, when our date began, I felt like we were long-lost siblings—maybe not something you want to think about on a date—but it was as if you were the late 80s, British, teenage version of me, from your obsession with boys to music to your appearance. We bonded over feeling like we could never measure up, and then we snickered about the people who seemed to have it all (probably bad form as adults, but hey). When our date was over, I felt like I’d known you all along. We’re hanging out again soon, right?

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy from St. Martin’s Griffin. I received neither money nor a pet unicorn for writing this review, despite how hard I wished for one.  My Mad Fat Diary is available now.