When Alice Randall’s latest novel opens, Ada Howard weighs more than 200 pounds and, frankly, she likes her “big fatness.” So does her husband of 25-plus years, the overly generous pastor of their church. But Ada knows that being big and fat just isn’t healthy, and with her college reunion coming up, she wants to look good. Especially for the boy who got away, Matt Mason.

Randall, whose controversial debut The Wind Done Gone was a slave’s take on Gone With the Wind, has no trouble plunging into touchy topics. In Ada’s Rules, she takes on weight loss and the politics of fat with rollicking humor, compassion and a touch of sadness. Ada is the youngest child of a blues musician and his wife. Her elderly parents are fading, and part of Ada’s determination to get healthy is because her three older sisters died too young from obesity-related issues. Then there are her adult twin daughters. They’re also sort of big. Maybe they should all start “healthing” together?

But Ada starts to worry as the pounds begin to melt away. Will Preach still find her desirable? Will he even notice?

Ada’s Rules gives readers the pleasure of spending some time with a real person. So many women are facing struggles like Ada’s, and many of the laughs will come from recognition as well as humor. The novel, with its chapter headings straight out of weight loss books—it’s almost something of a novel/diet book hybrid—is also suspenseful. What’s going to happen when Ada reaches her ideal weight? Will she reach her ideal weight? We know she’s not going to have an affair with Matt Mason. Or will she?

It’s a delight to read about someone so fully human. In Ada Howard, Randall has pulled off the tough trick of creating a truly relatable, deliciously complicated character.

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