Monday, 16 March 2009

The Earth, My Butt & Other BIG Round Things / Carolyn Mackler

Summary - Fifteen-year-old Virginia Shreves has a larger-than-average body and a plus-size inferiority complex. She lives on the Web, snarfs junk food, and follows the "Fat Girl Code of Conduct." Her stuttering best friend has just moved to Walla Walla (of all places). Her new companion, Froggy Welsh the Fourth (real name), has just succeeded in getting his hand up her shirt, and she lives in fear that he’ll look underneath. Then there are the other Shreves: Mom, the successful psychologist and exercise fiend; Dad, a top executive who ogles thin women on TV; and older siblings Ana├»s and rugby god Byron, both of them slim and brilliant. Delete Virginia, and the Shreves would be a picture-perfect family. Or so she’s convinced. And then a shocking phone call changes everything.

Review - I have an admission to make; this book was sitting on my shelf for two months. Its poor, pink spine was crying out for me to read it, despite my ever growing review pile. I relented...and proceeded to devour it.

This book is deceptively simple. It doesn’t blow you away with forced humour, adjectives or revelations that make you pause. Instead it paints a clear, piercingly clear portrait of what it is like to be the fat girl. The invisibility, the crippling self doubt, the familial pressure, incessant stares, bullying and the eating of one’s feelings.

Now onto heavier issues, Byron’s date rape. I have always wondered when watching Law and Order: SVU what is must be like when your brother or father is the perpetrator of this kind of appalling crime. Shame, denial, anger? He’s still family but he’s betrayed Virginia’s gender - betrayed her rights and her trust by exploiting a fellow female. I think the addition of this plot point made it rise above what could have been considered a frothy girl fest. But readers know that this book wouldn’t have been that, with or without the Byron subplot. Virginia assertive stance to her brother in the closing chapters was near brilliant.

I was with Virginia with her whole misconception of Froggy. Was she being unfair and presumptuous in assuming he wanted a secret pashfest? Yes, but I would have thought that too. But really, what was she to think? Big girls are conditioned to think they aren’t worthy and that poor esteem in turn creates self fulfilling prophecies.

Freedom to be one’s self is a great right. And one that Virginia snatched back. Once she had finally broken free of her self-important, denial ridden mother’s restraints, Virginia was able to breath for the first time. I felt like cheering aloud...but didn’t as that would be weird.

Carolyn Mackler has a written a truly honest, candid and insightful look into the life of big girl (both in personality and in size). Her pacing along with the burgeoning confidence of Virginia and her ascertaining of independence felt real. I want to commend her, on her creation of this character and her world, wholeheartedly. I can’t help but think that this novel may have made many girls feel less alone and more empowered. Colour me impressed and hand me another Mackler!

Published: 2003
Format: Paperback, 290 pages
Publisher: Walker Books Aust.
Origin: USA
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Jordyn said...

I agree; this book is amazing. I loved the way Virginia picked herself up and realized her awesomeness!

Anonymous said...

You know, this was a book that I felt like I wanted to like more than I actually did. On the other hand, I was very impressed by the date rape subplot; I thought it was a daring move on Mackler's part. Maybe I should give this one another look. I still own it.

Alea said...

Still need to read this one, I didn't realize there was rape it in, man!

Erika Powell said...

I wanted to read this book because I loved the title, I had no idea about the rape and now I want to read it even more. thanks for the great review

Anonymous said...

I haven't read this yet - although your review and learning that there's a date-rape subplot makes me want to read it, so onto the list it goes. But already I'm rather bothered by the fact that the butt on the cover is really not big. I always get annoyed when books about "the fat girl" (or boy, but its usually the girl) reinforce the idea that fat is anyone who's not a stick figure, rather than depicting someone who actually looks like what they're described as in the book (again, I haven't read it yet, so I don't know how overweight she's supposed to be, but to me the butt on the cover just doesn't say large or even semi-large girl).

Anonymous said...

You know, I was just coming back here to comment on the butt on the cover not really being big and how annoying that is (I own this book with a different cover), and I see Emily beat me to it. Sometimes I swear we share a brain. (She is probably wearing a look of horror as she reads that line...)

Anonymous said...

interesting, thanks

Unknown said...

omg i am 13 and i loved this book its true that it is a little easy but it was fun 2 read and it pulled me into the plot all people who have doubts about this book throw them 2 the corner and read your hart out