Book Review: Elena Vanishing

BY: Madison Zehmer

DATE: October 29, 2015

Elena Dunkle appears like she has it all together. She’s smart, talented, and hardworking. In high school, she volunteered at a hospital all while making excellent grades. No one would guess that she doesn’t eat, that she makes herself throw up what she does eat, and that she cuts herself.

Elena Vanishing, a memoir by Elena Dunkle and her mother, depicts Elena’s descent into anorexia nervosa after being raped at 13. Elena Vanishing describes Elena’s experiences traveling from hospital to hospital, and her family’s struggle to help her. Honest, poignant, and raw, Elena Vanishing is an account of the insidious, deadly nature of anorexia nervosa from the viewpoint of a survivor.

The memoir is elegantly crafted and reads like a novel. In comparison to young adult fictional accounts of eating disorders, Elena Vanishing comes across as much more genuine and realistic, as it does not romanticize or sugarcoat anorexia and its impact upon Elena and her family. Rather, it shows Elena’s struggle with anorexia, anxiety, and self-injury with candor, openness, and empathy.

On her website,, Elena writes that she and her mother wrote Elena Vanishing for a young adult audience in hopes that it will help youth struggling with an eating disorder and young survivors of sexual assault gain a sense of comfort and solidarity. Although Elena Vanishing is not a fun or light read, it is a compassionate and important one. It has the potential to help improve understanding of the journey to recovery that survivors of eating disorders go through.

Although Elena Vanishing is a great memoir, however, it does describe eating disorder behaviors, cognitive distortions and negative thinking patterns in detail and may be triggering for some. In addition, the description of Elena’s sexual assault and self-injury may be difficult for some to read, and self-awareness and care may be needed before and after reading these sections of the book.  Consider whether or not you can read the memoir and stay safe before reading.

Elena Vanishing is an authentic and moving non-fiction account of the struggle and recovery from anorexia nervosa and an overall outstanding read. Elena can be contacted through her website,, and her twitter, @elenadunkle.