ALL OF ME by Chris Baron is the wrenchingly honest and raw story of Ari, a gentle, sensitive, Jewish boy who is also fat. More than a coming-of-age story, All of Me is a “becoming yourself” story. The gentle arc of Ari’s journey is filled with events, both small and large, that each contribute to Ari’s realization of who he wants to become. The story, written in verse, touches on self-image, friendship, family conflicts, self-harm, bullying, and navigating expectations and identity.
The events flow seamlessly thanks to the “chapter” titles of each section of verse, and Ari’s voice begins and remains wonderfully true and authentic throughout. The book begins when Ari’s family moves across the country to San Francisco, and fault lines between Ari’s parents being to show almost immediately. On top of taunting emotional and physical bullying about his weight and religious background, Ari deals with awkward and challenging friendships, his parents’ crumbling relationship, and resisting the expectations of what it means to be masculine. Compounding the pressure, he starts his Bar Mitzvah lessons one-on-one with a Rabbi — a year later than most. Readers will admire Ari’s strength as well as relate to his true-to-life and painful emotions.
Readers should know that the story revolves around Ari’s weight and how he and those around him feel about how he looks. At one point, Ari harms himself related to his weight, and he begins a diet that seems to be based on the Atkins diet. The depiction of the short and long-term results is true-to-life and body-positive in the end, but there are moments when the deprivation and commentary, especially from Ari’s family, seem especially painful. Baron handles the realities of image, diet, and weight loss (and gain) deftly and with empathy.
Some readers might be intimidated by reading verse instead of prose. However, Baron’s language is incredibly clear and understandably descriptive. The story is split into sections by months, and each new event has a heading that will help readers orient themselves. I found both the emotional journeys and the physical journeys deeply touching and relevant to so many aspects of growing up. Whether it’s finding new friends, getting out of his comfort zone, or learning to accept himself, Ari leads readers through this thoughtful and tender story centered on connecting our physical and spiritual selves with our emotional selves.
All of Me is appropriate for middle grade readers and teens. Also highly recommended for parents and teachers.