Heidi Stevens: An eating disorder threatened his life. Now his story inspires us to live ours to the fullest

Heidi Stevens, Tribune News Service on

Published in Lifestyles

John Schu takes over a room in the best kind of way.

His energy, his quick laugh, his warmth — all befitting a children’s book author and school librarian, which is what Schu does.

But I was in the room because of what Schu is. And he’s a survivor.

Schu has written a new book called “Louder Than Hunger,” a graphic novel intended for middle school readers and older. It shot straight to the New York Times bestsellers list the week it debuted, and Schu is on a tour of classrooms and bookstores to discuss it. On a recent Thursday evening, I was invited to moderate his discussion at The Book Stall in Winnetka, Illinois.

“Louder Than Hunger” is about a 13-year-old boy named Jake who is living with anorexia nervosa and depression. He is hospitalized for treatment and, at one point, has to use a wheelchair because his shrinking body can no longer walk. Jake would like his body to take up less and less space until, ultimately, he and his body take up no space at all.

Jake is based on Schu. He was also a teenage boy who lived with anorexia nervosa and depression. He also had to use a wheelchair when his shrinking body could no longer walk. He wanted his disease to kill him.


Before he got sick, he was brutally bullied at school — ”verbal stones,” he calls the taunts and jeers.

“Stones that helped create the Voice,” Schu writes in “Louder Than Hunger.” “Stones that gave the Voice permission to speak.”

The Voice is a character in the book. It tells Jake not to eat. It tells him he’s not worthy of food. Or friendship. Or love. Or living. It drowns out all the other voices of people telling Jake the opposite. It’s that loud.

Being in a room with Schu now, three decades later, is a gift.


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