Peeling the Onion: Title Aside, A Very Good Recovery Novel

Peeling the Onion is written by Wendy Orr. It was published in 1996 in Australia by Allen & Unwin, and then in the United States by Holiday House in 1997 (the first novel I’m reviewing that wasn’t published in the 2000s! Yay!). Her website can be found here.

Genre: Realistic/Recovery


“The accident changed everything. Before the screeching brakes, the shattering of glass, there was one Anna Duncan. She knew who she was; she knew what she looked like. But now there is another Anna—a stranger to her family, her friends, and even herself.

This Anna is no longer the popular and pretty girl who loved karate. She can’t bear to see her friends’ shock when they first see her face, or witness her boyfriend’s concern. Her body, once so agile and strong, now betrays her, and she knows it will never be the same. All the layers that made up the old Anna Duncan—her looks, her friends, her sport—have peeled away, leaving her to face the questions of who she really is, and who she wants to be.”

            ~Inside Flap


Cover Art

“There are two Annas. One joins in the chatter and surface of daily life, of being a friend, a daughter, a patient; this Anna knows that if you’re strong and cheerful and fight fair you win the game and live happily ever after….The other Anna has no shape or role. She is an amorphous blob who just is. She is a black hole of pain and misery and terror, sucking the rays of friendship and politeness into oblivion. She floats above and around and behind the cheerful Anna, threatening to obliterate and swallow her down into that nothingness. And sometimes I think that she’s the real me, but that can’t be true, I won’t let her, I’ve been the first Anna for so long, it’s the only way I know how to be me.”

            ~Orr 16

“I am

peeling like an onion,

shedding paper protection,

and superficial skin—

tearing, skinning, ripping off the layers—

the firm and curving flesh

of what onions used to be—

Peeling onions makes me cry.

Shrinking down to nothing,

my shells are disappearing

and there’s nowhere left to hide.

But under all the layers

–a tiny green shoot sprouting—

I’m growing from inside.”

~Orr 166

Warnings: A tiny bit of swearing.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Rating: 4/5

What I Liked:

This was a very realistic narrative of someone who is recovering from an accident and knows that things will never be the same again. Anna’s struggle to figure out and acceptance of who she is after the accident is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. It’s written almost like a collection of vignettes which makes for an interesting (but not jarring or distracting; more like stream of consciousness) flow. There are three poems in the book (one of which can be found above) which mark the three points of Anna’s journey; I thought they were quite good (though I’m no expert) and very telling of her state of mind at the time.

What I Didn’t Like:

The title. It made me half-laugh and half-roll my eyes when I first saw it.

Overall Review:

If you enjoy recovery novels then you’ll enjoy this one. It’s solid and a very good read. People who have been in life-changing accidents themselves can probably really connect with Anna and what she’s going through.

Coming Up Next: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

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