Full by Julia Spiro, Lake Union Publishing, 2022, $24.95, 271 pages.

As Julia Spiro’s new novel Full opens, her main character, Ava Maloney, is about to reach a crisis point. Ava is a “wellness influencer” with an enormous and loyal following on social media. Her viewers love her exercise and lifestyle videos, but the key ingredient of her success is the authenticity she radiates, so unlike the polished, fake androids who populate the rest of the influencer world. 

The irony that governs Full is that all of this authenticity is false. A fawning profile of her is about to appear in Los Angeles Magazine, for instance, and all she can think is: “The person in the profile is a good person, a loving person, a truthful person. But that person isn’t me.”

Behind her smiling public persona, Ava is hiding a dark secret: she’s bulimic, with her entire life comprised of an exhausting cycle of binge-eating and purging. She hates herself for lying but fears that if her secret were exposed, it would mean the end of her sponsorship deals, her promotional contracts, and worst of all, her huge following of fans.

“My digital world is now my real world,” she thinks at one point. “My followers are my lifeline. Without them — without my social media platform — I’m not sure I even exist.”

But when dinner with a date turns into a horribly embarrassing disaster, Ava finally decides to address her problem directly. She leaves Los Angeles and goes to a wellness retreat on Martha’s Vineyard, where she and her “cabinmates” can help each other’s lives to regain some stability.

Ava isn’t on the Island long before the straightforward nature of this plan is complicated in two ways. She meets an attractive local Vineyard artist named Carter, starts to feel a genuine personal connection with him, and immediately flashes back to the horrible date that originally sent her to the Vineyard.

"The last thing I need is some local guy to wine and dine me,” she thinks, “only to end up dropping me and making me feel worse about myself than I did before meeting him in the first place.”

Carter is a laid back, very likable guy (although with some dodgy opinions, as when he says  “People say Menemsha is the best sunset spot on the Island, but I disagree. Aquinnah has my vote” — a slight the good folk on Team Menemsha will not soon forget).

And as if her struggling with her growing feelings for Carter weren’t problem enough, Ava has a more pressing issue: somebody out there on the internet knows that she’s on the Vineyard — and they claim to know why as well. An emailer known only as “mermaid1985” has suddenly popped up in her inbox, warning her that a “countdown” has started, that soon her dirty secret will be revealed and her enormous fan base will know that the polished perfection of Ava’s wellness videos is a carefully-crafted lie.

This second complication opens the door to let some of the book’s characters digress on the nature of social media. It isn’t just Ava herself who sometimes wonders about the line between reality and representation when the camera is off; the book is full of observations about this strange new para-social world so many people now inhabit, particularly young people. One such young character puts it perfectly: “Everything is about social media for people my age,” she says. “Before I do anything, I think about how I’d caption it, how I’d photograph it, whether or not it would be cool on my feed. Social media is our reality.”

Ms. Spiro writes all of this with infectious energy that leads to only a few little blind spots — Ava, for instance, will be literally the last person connected with this book who fails to guess the identity of “mermaid1985” until the last minute big reveal.

By far the book’s most fascinating narrative thread is also its most unnerving: Spiro never shies away from the ugly realities of bulimia and uses no euphemisms for describing how it rules and ruins Ava’s life. Readers who were under uninformed impressions about this disease will learn a lot.

And the novel’s other wholly effective narrative strand, as mentioned, involves the world of social media “influencers” and the mostly-pernicious effects that world can have on its stars and its watchers. If you follow such stars on YouTube or Instagram, Full will make you think twice about just how perfect they really are.