Thursday, June 2, 2011

Too cruel for school

Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin (2011)

Being a teenager sucks on many levels, but if you are a teenager who happens to be a dwarf and you are starting at a new high school the suckage potential is exponentially increased. Judy seemed relatively unphased by this, and was mostly just excited to be at such an elite performing arts high school. But clearly things did not go well, as Big Girl Small opens with Judy hiding out at a seedy motel because something so scandalous has happened she is too humiliated to face anyone she knows.

Told in flashback with a slow reveal of the mysterious awful occurrence, the beginning was a little slow for me but once I got into the story I couldn’t put it down. I find this technique manipulative and a bit cheap, but it always works on me. I even knew a little about what the scandal was since reviews of this book gave away FAR too much, but even so it was like watching a slow-motion train wreck. (I won’t be giving away the secrets, so read on without fear!)

At first, Judy didn’t strike me as very genuinely adolescent. She seemed especially mature and self-aware, but showed her naivete later as she became involved with Kyle, the boy who eventually betrayed her. She had a lot of self-confidence for a teenage girl. Maybe she was a little surprised that a popular boy like Kyle would be interested in her, but didn’t really question it. She is, after all, cute and talented and funny. Why shouldn’t he like her? At the same time, Judy is often not given enough credit. After the scandal she kept being referred to as “disabled” and assumed to be a victim. She says “I felt like they should write I’m brave.” Clearly used to being condescended to, she handled awkward (and possibly offensive) social interactions with aloofness and grace that I found admirable.

I loved Judy’s friend, Goth Sarah, who was sweet and devoted and there when Judy needed her the most. Although boys who are betrayers in novels tend to be weak characters, I appreciate that Kyle wasn’t a typical two-dimensional stereotype (though his friends were). Judy’s younger brother Sam was an important though minor character whose lovable dorkiness perfectly illustrates why Judy adores him so much. Even Bill from the motel, a possibly autistic man who provided Judy with a sympathetic ear, was an interesting, and ultimately surprising, character.

The only disappointing aspect of the book was the glaringly unrelated cover photo. Just as with The Wife’s Tale, if a book’s protagonist has a physical characteristic that is integral to the story, using a stock photo of someone who obviously doesn’t have that characteristic is stupid and lame.

Despite the misleading packaging, Big Girl Small is witty and ultimately hopeful, filled with appealing characters and positive insights on self-image and friendship. This would be a great addition to your summer reading list.

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