Malnourished: A Memoir of Sisterhood and Hunger


by Cinthia Ritchie

FINALIST — 2020 PNWA Nancy Pearl Book Award for Memoir

In Malnourished, Cinthia Ritchie traces the tragedy of her sister’s eating disorder to its beginning—their stepfather’s Pennsylvania farm, where both girls hungered for approval and affection during long, languid days and yearned for protection through endless, dark nights. In gripping, lyrical prose, she demonstrates the outcome of early damage.

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by Cinthia Ritchie

How do you begin to process your sister starving herself to death? For Cinthia Ritchie, writing about it was her method of coping, a means of searching for answers to long-unspoken questions.

After her sister died due to complications from an eating disorder, no one in Ritchie’s family knew how to talk about what had happened, so no one did. It was as if she died twice, once in real life and again in family memory.

In this stunning memoir, Ritchie traces the tragedy of her sister’s too-short life back to its beginning—their stepfather’s Pennsylvania farm, where both girls hungered for approval and affection during long, languid days and yearned for protection through endless, dark nights. She pierces the veins of her own life, along with its bones of truth and muscles of denial, interrogating the ways she likewise resisted the force of her own appetites.

Malnourished  dives deep into what we dare not speak—secrets, obsessions, deviations—demonstrating in gripping, lyrical prose how the damage done early in one’s life colors the taste of everything to come. And how the mouth filled with blood and stones might finally yield to gasps of clear air, discovering the texture of open terrain, a roadmap of back trails leading to a kind of recovery.

Malnourished is a book for anyone who has ever experienced lack, and for anyone who has nevertheless loved.


“Childhood trauma, we now know, plays out in disastrous lifelong ways. In this achingly brave, compassionate, searching, and lyrical memoir, Cinthia Ritchie shows how a seemingly bucolic country childhood can be fraught with danger and that family secrets and silences wall off even close siblings from one another. Ritchie’s beautifully written and deeply felt story about ‘a family afraid to tell the truth’ succeeds at last in sorting truth from lies as it demonstrates the strengths and vulnerabilities of survivors.”

—Nancy Lord, former Alaska Writer Laureate, author of Fishcamp: Life on an Alaskan Shore and pH: A Novel


“Cinthia Ritchie writes lyrically and courageously about suffering, hunger, and abuse in all its forms, and about love, too. It hurt me to read this book, but I’m glad she wrote it, as I’m sure it will save someone’s life.”

 —Heather Lende, author of Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs


“The stakes are high in Cinthia Ritchie’s brave memoir Malnourished: A Memoir of Sisterhood and Hunger. Exploring one’s loss, grief, guilt, and love is dangerous; it can take one to the edge of the tolerable and into deep despair. But as Ritchie slowly and intentionally pulls back the curtains of her childhood, her vivid and compelling voice carries us through each thrust and parry ultimately bringing us closer and closer to the most unbearable of all, her sister’s death from anorexia starvation. It may be the case, as Joan Didion wrote in The White Album, that ‘we look for the sermon in the suicide,’ but there is no sermon here. Instead, we get to experience in this achingly beautiful book the healing that comes from putting the narrative into words.”

—Ronald Spatz, editor, Alaska Quarterly Review


“Powered by a courageous appetite for understanding, Cinthia Ritchie’s Malnourished explores raw truths about love, identity, sisterhood, and survival, inviting readers to inhabit an ultimately resilient woman’s complex longings.”

—Andromeda Romano-Lax, author of Plum Rains and The Spanish Bow


“At times pure poetry, at times as searing as a lightning bolt, Malnourished is the kind of book that sticks with you long after you’ve read it. Told by the sister who survived, it is a haunting journey that forces the reader to confront the reality of abuse, society’s expectations for young women, and, ultimately, the strength it takes to escape the past. Quite simply, the unflinching honesty and the beauty of the writing left me breathless.”

—Mary Emerick, author of The Geography of Water and Fire in the Heart: A Memoir of Friendship, Loss, and Wildfire



Additional information

Weight 7.488 oz
Dimensions 8.5 × 5.5 × 0.37 in

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