"it seems like a blur
when I look back on it."


Elena Vanishing book cover

ELENA VANISHING: A Memoir by Elena and Clare B. Dunkle

From Chronicle Books, 2015.

I need to know the number that's made me beautiful.

I change into my workout clothes and go to the gym. I turn up the music and run on the treadmill till everything feels worse and then feels better.

You didn't get rid of it all, says the voice in my head. You're getting fat right this minute. You can't exercise away those kinds of calories.

I make myself do another half hour on the treadmill. What happened this afternoon wasn't a breakdown. My willpower is still there.

Panting, I drag myself back into the locker room to change back into my street clothes. The women's locker room is empty, so I let myself step onto the scale and read the number.

Is that right? Is that really right?

I read the number again.

That's the best I've ever done!

That's not so great. You could do better, mutters the voice in my head.

Everyone thinks you're a big fat fake.

Seventeen-year-old Elena has a voice in her head that tells her what she needs to do in order to be perfect: Put on her makeup. Be charming and poised. Make top grades. Work two or even three jobs. And never, ever eat.

You're an out-of-control, binge-eating whore.

This is the voice she calls her conscience. And listening to it just might kill her.

As Elena's body starts to break down and she goes from one hospital to another, she comes to understand that her inner voice is her greatest demon. And in order to defeat it, she will have to face a secret she's hidden for years.

This is the story of a girl whose armor against anxiety is artillery against herself, a girl battling on both sides of a lose-lose war, a girl struggling with anorexia nervosa. Cowritten with her mother, award-winning author Clare B. Dunkle, Elena's memoir is a fascinating and intimate look at a deadly disease, and a must-read for anyone who wants to understand this dangerous disorder.

Therapy diagram: getting out of shame
"getting out of shame:
Reinforcing (i should be ashamed) ➙ Demystifying (i'll share with others)
Individualizing (i'm the only one) ➙ Contextualizing (look at the big pic)
Pathologizing (something's wrong with me) ➙ Normalizing (I'm not the only one)"

ELENA VANISHING is available in the following formats: hardcover, audiobook, and ebook (Kindle or Nook book).

This is a Junior Library Guild selection.

Audible Books is releasing the audiobook.

"Poignant, painfully honest look at a young woman's struggle.  A solid addition to memoir collections."
--School Library Journal

"This authentic, painful story adds a valuable firsthand perspective on eating disorders."
--Publishers Weekly

"A very powerful narrative. Elena is a very real person—not a caricature, not a martyr or a heroine, but a very real person who struggles. Highly recommended for public and high school libraries."

Hope and Other Luxuries book cover


My mother, Clare B. Dunkle, wrote a memoir to match mine, telling our story from her point of view. In her memoir, she talks about the process she and I went through to write my memoir, ELENA VANISHING. You can learn more about HOPE AND OTHER LUXURIES by following this link.

Clare B. Dunkle and Elena Dunkle

My mother wrote this letter to accompany the advance reading copies of ELENA VANISHING:

When I offered to help my daughter Elena write about her life with anorexia nervosa, I thought I already understood her disorder. Like most educated women, I’d been reading articles and watching focus pieces about it for years. But I quickly discovered how little I knew. Most of my basic assumptions were wrong.

I had believed anorexia nervosa was about dieting to achieve a “supermodel” look. In fact, during Elena’s worst years, she never once looked at herself. Elena dieted because not eating was the only thing that brought her a sense of peace. Anorexia had so altered the patterns of her mind that following her into that inner world was like stepping through a funhouse mirror: everything I took for granted seemed to twist into something else.

Most important, I had believed eating disorders were relatively rare. In fact, around ten percent of the American population will suffer from an eating disorder at some point—the vast majority of them while they’re in their teens or twenties. Now that I know what to look for, I see them everywhere.

But this isn’t the story of anorexia nervosa. It’s the story of a person. It’s the story of Elena Dunkle, a remarkable young woman who fights her demons with grit and determination. It’s the story of her battle to overcome trauma, to overcome prejudice, but most of all, to overcome that powerful destructive force, the inner critic who whispers to us about our greatest fears.

Elena is a fighter, a survivor—but never a victim. This is an inside view of her life-and-death struggle with anorexia nervosa: what she once called “the good girl’s suicide.”

Diary quote
"Every time he puts his arms around me to hug me, I can feel his hands and fingers tracing my spine and ribs and shoulder blades to see if they've gotten worse, if I've gotten worse in the few days since I've seen him. So I bury my face in his chest and wrap my arms around him and try to inhale fully so the bones aren't so bad, keeping my lungs and body as full as possible until he stops and puts his face in my hair and he breathes in and then I breathe in, and we stay like that, next to the car until I break away and say goodbye and walk inside without looking back."