Louder Than Hunger

by John Schu (Author)

Reading Level: 6th − 7th Grade

"Every so often a book comes along that is so brave and necessary, it extends a lifeline when it's needed most. This is one of those books." --Katherine Applegate, author of the Newbery Medal-winning, The One and Only Ivan

Revered teacher, librarian, and story ambassador John Schu explores anorexia--and self-expression as an act of survival--in a wrenching and transformative novel-in-verse.

But another voice inside me says,
We need help.
We're going to die.

Jake volunteers at a nursing home because he likes helping people. He likes skating and singing, playing Bingo and Name That Tune, and reading mysteries and comics aloud to his teachers. He also likes avoiding people his own age . . . and the cruelty of mirrors . . . and food. Jake has read about kids like him in books--the weird one, the outsider--and would do anything not to be that kid, including shrink himself down to nothing. But the less he eats, the bigger he feels. How long can Jake punish himself before he truly disappears? A fictionalized account of the author's experiences and emotions living in residential treatment facilities as a young teen with an eating disorder, Louder than Hunger is a triumph of raw honesty. With a deeply personal afterword for context, this much-anticipated verse novel is a powerful model for muffling the destructive voices inside, managing and articulating pain, and embracing self-acceptance, support, and love.

Select format:

Kirkus Reviews

A sensitive, true-to-life narrative that is respectfully and indelibly portrayed.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

In 1996, white-cued 13-year-old Jake Stacey would rather roller skate and listen to Broadway musicals or volunteer at the local nursing home than go to school and face relentless bullying. An internal voice, stylized in all-caps, declares that Jake doesn't "deserve/ love/ and/ warmth/ and/ kindness/ and/ goodness," and persuades him to forgo eating. Jake, who feels as if ignoring his hunger gives him control when nothing else does, is diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and admitted to Whispering Pines, an inpatient treatment facility for eating disorders. Jake initially rebels against the staff, refuses to speak during therapy, and dreams of leaving to attend a Broadway show with his grandmother. As he settles into his treatment, he experiences setbacks, explores his relationship with food, and opens up to the people around him. This heart-wrenching verse novel--inspired by the author's experiences, as discussed in an end note by Schu (This Is a Story)--is an unflinching depiction of resistance and disordered eating recovery. Clever use of negative space and onomatopoeic phrases emphasize Jake's feelings of anger, grief, shame, and vulnerability, while musical theater lyrics and letters from Jake's grandmother gently buoy this raw read. Resources conclude. Ages 10-14. Agent: Molly O'Neill, Root Literary. (Mar.)

Copyright 2023 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 5 Up–Eighth grader Jake is bullied at school. He has only two friends. One is his grandmother, who understands him in a way his parents do not and shares his love of musicals. The other is an angel statue he named Frieden. It is only with her who Jake can be honest about how desperately in need of help he is. Jake is wasting away, controlled by “the voice,” which dictates what and how much Jake can eat—and it is louder than his hunger. A former teacher at the nursing home where he volunteers calls Jake’s mother to share her concerns about his weight, ultimately resulting in placement at an inpatient treatment center called Whispering Pines. A regimented schedule including group therapy, art therapy, and work with a psychologist provide Jake with multiple ways to combat his anorexia. Jake is furious that all treatment is at odds with the voice and refuses to participate. It is heartrending and frustrating to watch Jake take steps forward, and then regress multiple times in his nearly yearlong stay, but this repetition sheds insight into the reality of treatment. It is not until Jake begins to genuinely participate that readers learn Jake’s backstory, and the relationship between bullying and his disordered eating. The novel’s mid-1990s cultural references may be unfamiliar to young readers, but the multitude of issues Jake is struggling with are evergreen. The novel is written in verse from Jake’s perspective, allowing poignant access to his thoughts and feelings. Schu draws on his own experience with anorexia, adding authenticity to the voice. The author clearly cares about his young readers, checking in with them at the end of the book and providing resources about eating disorders. Jake reads as white, as do others in his program. VERDICT Jake’s struggle with anorexia isn’t easy to read but his ultimate steps toward health provide hope, as does this much-needed and underrepresented male perspective on eating disorders.

Copyright 2024 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

A beautiful, powerful, and emotionally impactful book. Jake's story will fill you with hope and the courage to face your own challenges!
—Jeff Kinney, author of the New York Times best-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid series

Every so often a book comes along that is so brave and necessary, it extends a lifeline when it's needed most. This is one of those books.
—Katherine Applegate, author of the Newbery Medal-winning, The One and Only Ivan

John Schu has given us a courageous tale confirming that the voices inside of us—the ones trying to silence our lives—are real, but conquerable. This is a story of triumph, and I hope that for readers, Louder Than Hunger is louder than heartbreak.
—Jason Reynolds, former National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

Captivating, poignant, graceful, and so important. John Schu is a masterful storyteller, and his lyrical prose will be relatable to anyone dealing with self-acceptance. It's the kind of book that adults will want to put into the hands of kids, but they won't need to. Kids will be giving it to each other.
—Dav Pilkey, author of the New York Times best-selling Dog Man series

Told with brutal honesty, this is an important story about confronting anorexia's all-too-loud voice and healing so it stays silenced—once and for all.
—Lisa Fipps, author of the Michael L. Printz Honor Book Starfish

Louder Than Hunger is a powerful and important book, giving readers entry into the world of a sensitive teen, struggling physically and emotionally with crippling anxiety and anorexia. Through his free verse voice, we accompany Jake into his honest, raw, vulnerable world. I think readers of all ages will empathize with him, worry for him, and root for his journey to understanding, recovery, hope, and joy. Those who know the author, John Schu, and have witnessed his boundless enthusiasm and legendary passion for reading and the transformative power of story will connect on an even deeper level upon learning that Jake's story parallels John Schu's own. From troubled teen to author and speaker surging with compassion and joy and willing to share it all with the world—that is John Schu.
—Newbery Medalist Sharon Creech

Masterfully lyrical, powerfully raw, and incredibly moving, Louder Than Hunger is a marvel. Jake's story will break and mend your heart. A book full of unflinching and vulnerable truths, but also filtered with inspiring light. Necessary and important.
—Jasmine Warga, best-selling and Newbery Honor-winning author of Other Words for Home

Louder Than Hunger pours its whole heart onto the page, bravely exposing the raw spaces within to give readers that rare and precious gift: hope.
—Minh Lê, award-winning author of Drawn Together

Once I started reading this book, I could not put it down. A raw, honest, heartrending story about shouting down that voice in your head that says you're worthless.
—Alan Gratz, author of the New York Times best-selling Refugee

Heartbreakingly honest and unforgettable.
—Kelly Yang, New York Times best-selling author of the Front Desk series

A startling and honest story that will touch many lives. Just as Jake finds healing and joy in music and poetry and stories, so will the readers of this book.
—Rajani LaRocca, author of the Newbery Honor Book Red, White, and Whole

Sometimes hope comes along and it's book-shaped—like this. Like Jake and his gentle vulnerability, his big, beautiful heart, his journey that will remind so many readers they aren't alone. I adored every page of this story.
—Natalie Lloyd, New York Times best-selling author of A Snicker of Magic

Everybody seems to have a voice in their head that whispers bad things. But Jake's voice is shouting and screaming. As he shares his amazing story, his true voice comes through. You will want to listen.
—Tom Angleberger, author of the New York Times best-selling Origami Yoda series

Jake had my heart right from the beginning of this powerful, moving story about healing and resilience.
—Supriya Kelkar, author of American as Paneer Pie

A must-read! Louder Than Hunger by John Schu shines a light on the power to quiet the voice that anchors doubt, tells lies, and steals confidence. The reader will root for Jake. Worry about Jake. Love Jake. His beautiful heart, his Broadway spirit, his bravery. This powerful heartprint story will change you. In the very best possible way.
—Elly Swartz, author of Finding Perfect

When we read an incredible story, our hearts can grow with every word. I do believe my heart grew three sizes.
—Pernille Ripp, educator, author, and founder of the Global Read Aloud

Jake's story is compelling, important, and filled with vulnerability and love—a book with a raw and unflinching honesty. There are readers whose hearts and minds will be opened by this story. For some, it will save their lives.
—Pam Muñoz Ryan, author of the Pura Belpré Author Award winner Esperanza Rising

Oh, this book! I read it in one sitting because I couldn't put it down. Jake held me close and didn't let go. He broke my heart and stitched it back together again. This is a life-changing book for anyone who has ever wanted to disappear. Masterful.
—Erin Entrada Kelly, author of the Newbery Medal winner Hello, Universe

Jake is a character who will stay in the hearts of readers for the rest of their lives. I can't wait for you to meet him.
—Colby Sharp, teacher, author, and reader

—Travis Jonker, librarian, author, and illustrator 

The emphasis on internal contradictions and the carefully rendered ending, hinting at hope without promising certainty of recovery, are especially honest and notable. . . . A sensitive, true-to-life narrative that is respectfully and indelibly portrayed.
—Kirkus Reviews

Pulling from struggles with his own eating disorder, Schu gives readers a searing, deeply intimate verse novel, depicting the emotional and physical devastation wrought by disordered eating with brutal, gut-punching honesty. . . . Disordered eating among boys is still an underdiscussed topic and this could bring some much-needed awareness.
—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
John Schu

John Schu has made a career out of advocating for the people and things he cares about most: kids, books, and the people that connect them. He was named a Library Journal Mover and Shaker for his dynamic interactions with students and his passionate adoption of new technologies as a means of connecting authors, illustrators, books, and readers. He is the children’s librarian for Bookelicious, a part-time lecturer at Rutgers University, and shares his love of reading with countless educators and students around the world. He served as the Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic Book Fairs for almost 6 years.

He is the author of This Is a School (Candlewick Press, 2022) illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison, This Is a Story (Candlewick Press, 2023) illustrated by Caldecott Honor artist Lauren Castillo, Louder Than Hunger (Candlewick, 2024) and The Gift of Story: Exploring the Affective Side of the Reading Life (Stenhouse, 2022). He is a contributor to The Creativity Project (Little, Brown, 2018), edited by Colby Sharp. John Schu lives in Naperville, Illinois.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Candlewick Press (MA)
Publication date
March 19, 2024
BISAC categories
JUV005000 - Juvenile Fiction | Boys & Men
JUV057000 - Juvenile Fiction | Stories in Verse (see also Poetry)
JUV039240 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Depression & Mental Illness
Library of Congress categories
Novels in verse
Anorexia nervosa
Anorexia in adolescence

Subscribe to our delicious e-newsletter!