© 2024 Wyoming Public Media
800-729-5897 | 307-766-4240
Wyoming Public Media is a service of the University of Wyoming
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Transmission & Streaming Disruptions

John Schu's new memoir 'Louder than Hunger' follows life with an eating disorder


Jake Stacey is 13 years old in the 1990s and hears a voice inside of him. He loves Sondheim and Streisand, Emily Dickinson and roller blading. He has a special bond with his grandmother, and they laugh, watch movies, listen to Broadway shows and have fun. Then Jake hears that voice telling him...

JOHN SCHU: You don't deserve love and warmth and kindness and goodness. You don't deserve anything.

SIMON: That's John Schu. He's a children's librarian and author of books for young readers. His latest is "Louder Than Hunger." And John Schu joins us now from book tour in Nashville. Thank you so much for being with us.

SCHU: Oh, thank you so much for chatting with me today about "Louder Than Hunger," which is the story of my heart.

SIMON: Well, you know this voice in your own life, don't you?

SCHU: Yeah. So Jake Stacey, who's the main character of "Louder Than Hunger" - his full name is Jake Edward Stacey, and my full legal name is John Edward Schumacher (ph), and so Jake and I have the same initials. But I decided to fictionalize my story, my journey with anorexia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety.

SIMON: Well, tell us about that voice, what you heard, what Jake hears.

SCHU: So the voice started in the fifth grade, and it wasn't a very loud voice. But as I made my way through middle school and experienced various bullying and criticisms, the voice became louder and eventually the voice became so loud that it in many ways dictated my life by calling me repulsive and unworthy. And in order to gain some control, I started to do things to try to make myself become smaller, make myself invisible.

SIMON: And not eating takes a toll, doesn't it?

SCHU: Yeah, because you - obviously without food, decision-making is challenging, and school is challenging. Relationships are challenging. And when there's a voice manipulating you, you don't really know what your place is in this world.

SIMON: John, what is that voice?

SCHU: Well, I realized that the voice is actually me, my own inner saboteur. And it takes a lot of therapy and a lot of reflection to realize that I am in control of that voice. And I've gleaned strategies in order to always keep it, as I refer to with middle school kids, a lowercase V, because in the book, when Jake, for a lot of the book, is referring to the voice in his head, it looks like a proper noun. But as he starts to do the work and as he starts to want to go on the path toward recovery, he's able to change that from an uppercase V to a lowercase V.

SIMON: Let me ask you a bit about Jake. He volunteers at a nursing home. What does he find there that he finds in no other spot in life at that moment?

SCHU: Yeah. So that was based on my own - that is truth. Not 100% of the book is truth. But I went to a very small school from 9 a.m. until noon, and then you were expected to volunteer in the afternoon, and I started volunteering at a local nursing home. And I loved being there because I felt accepted among the residents, and the residents were always very motherly and compassionate to me. And it was actually a resident who was legally blind that I would read to every afternoon, and I cannot remember her name, but in the book I call her Ms. Burns. And one day, Ms. Burns was holding my hand, and I was reading to her, and she could tell that there was something wrong with me. And she went to the director of the nursing home and had her call my mom. And my mom was going through some difficult things at the time, and that was a wake-up call for my mom. And because of that very kind and compassionate resident, I found myself at Linden Oaks Hospital in Naperville, Ill.

SIMON: Wow. Well, Jake's mother takes him to a place called Whispering Pines.

SCHU: Yes.

SIMON: Didn't take a lot of trouble to change the names that much, did you, John?

SCHU: Well, because, yeah, that's what I've been telling people, is that I wanted it to sound kind of like Linden Oaks, you know, like, trees. And then Jake in the book loves "The Golden Girls," and I love "The Golden Girls." And it reminded me of Shady Pines, where Dorothy is always saying, I'm going to send you to Shady Pines, Mother. And so that kind of brought some humor to my writing experiences of the raw poetry.

SIMON: And how are you doing today?

SCHU: I am doing very, very well.

SIMON: What did make a difference for you, John?

SCHU: Yeah, I think what made a difference was this moment in a real bookstore in Chicago called Unabridged Books, and one of my favorite scenes to write in "Louder Than Hunger" actually takes place in that bookshop. I was at Linden Oaks Hospital, and then I transferred to Rush in Chicago.

SIMON: Used to be Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's.

SCHU: Yes. Yeah, Rush-Presbyterian. They would encourage a lot of day trips out with my family, and there was this one where we went to Unabridged Books, and we wandered and roamed around Lakeview and Lincoln Park and I remember thinking, I feel so alive here, and I feel at peace here, and I feel at home here, and I want to live here one day. And I remember thinking, but if you don't start doing what your therapist is telling you to do and you don't start doing all the things that you really know you need to do to get better, you're never going to be able to live here. And so Unabridged Books in my story was a turning point.

SIMON: There are families listening to this interview today as they drop off youngsters and pick them up and run errands, but contend with their own voices of self-destruction. What would you like to tell them?

SCHU: I would like to tell them to get a notebook and to write down your thoughts and to record your feelings. And I would tell them something that the great two-time Newbery medalist Kate DiCamillo always reminds me to do when I'm writing and when I'm working through something, which is that we have to open up the suitcase of our heart. And I think when we open up the suitcase of our heart and we're honest with ourselves and we're honest with others, life, as one of the characters in "Louder Than Hunger" says, is easier, better, and more fun.

SIMON: John Schu - his new book "Louder Than Hunger." Thank you so much for being with us.

SCHU: Oh, thank you so much. It was an honor to chat with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF J^P^N'S "STATUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

Enjoying stories like this?

Donate to help keep public radio strong across Wyoming.