Monday, 17 August 2009

Review: Big Fat Manifesto / Susan Vaught

Summary - Jamie is a senior in high school and, like so many kids in that year, doing too much - including trying to change the world - and fighting for her rights as a very fat girl. And not quietly: she's writing a column every week in the paper with her thoughts and fears and gripes. As her column raises all kinds of questions, so too, must she find her own private way in her world, with love popping up in an unexpected place, and satisfaction in her size losing ground to real frustration.

Review - On many levels I could relate to this book and it's protagonist, Jamie. On the positive side, the book insightfully explores the way that society sees those that are overweight, or as Jamie prefers, fat. While the discussion of overweight teens is interestingly addressed through newspaper columns, her boyfriend's gastric bypass surgery and her inner dialogue, some elements fell flat for me.

At no point do I doubt that Vaught knows her stuff. You only need to check out her own website to view her own stunning weight loss but issues seemed to take a front seat to characterisation in Big Fat Manifesto. Jamie is a funny, thoughtful and occasional bitchtastic teen girl who just happens to have weight issues. She's also trying to prove her journalistic worth with a series of searing columns about society's view of "fat" people as Fat Girl. While the columns have some great points and contradict many stereotypes, Jamie's lack of journalistic prowess is clear. The character hangs her hopes on achieving a scholarship through her series of articles, the author positioning that they are great articles and this is where the crux of the articles and the novel converge. The issues and points made are fantastic, the execution not so great.

There is plenty of humour, a lot of information on the notion of being overweight, surgical intervention, confidence and a zippy pace. However, the characters are quite two dimensional in their set up - the jock, the vegan, the lesbian, the rich boy and while Vaught makes strides in deconstructing these stereotypes, she doesn't do nearly enough. At times I hoped that Jamie would explore her own contradictions than concern herself on her probable odour but perhaps that is too much introspection for a senior. Regardless, Big Fat Manifesto is a fun and thoughtful read that skims the surface, never really ducking into the deep waters of characterisation.

Published: 3 April 2008
Format: Paperback, 250 pages
Publisher: Random House
Origin: USA
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