Sunday, January 2, 2011
Book Review: The Earth, My Butt, & Other Big Round Things
The Earth, My Butt, & Other Big Round Things (2003) by Carolyn Mackler
Back Jacket: Virginia Shreves has a larger-than-average body and a plus-size inferiority complex. She lives on the Web, snarfs junk food, and obeys the "Fat Girl Code of Conduct." Then there are the other Shreveses: Mom is an exercise fiend and a successful adolescent psychologist; Dad, when not jet-setting, or golfing in Connecticut, ogles skinny women on TV; and older siblings Byron and Anais are slim, brilliant, and impossible to live up to. Delete Virginia, and the Shreveses are a picture-perfect family...until a phone call changes everything.
Review: This book is superb; there are so many things to like about it! Mackler delivers us Virginia (named for Virginia Woolf) who is smart, but depressed with the general state of her life. She has relegated herself to the rank of "Fat Girl" and theorizes that fat girls are not like skinny girls and thus must adhere to a different code of conduct (like no public displays of affection and no talking to guys about relationship status). The book has its heartbreaking moments, as when Virginia overhears a group of popular girls saying they'd rather be dead than be chubby like her, but it's ultimately an optimistic, affirming book. I've probably said before that my favorite contemporary books are the ones where the protagonist is just starting to come into new ideas, test the boundaries of society, and take risks. Virginia is one of those characters. At first she turns her anger and hate inward, but through the course of the book she revolutionizes her life. It feels good to read these books because as Jennifer Crusie says in this interview, "these are women who are in real trouble and they struggle and they win." (In this instance she is referring to romance novels, but still). There's also a lot to be said for Virginia's close relationship to her older sister and her best friend, Shannon. Like E. Lockhart's Frankie, Virginia is introduced to some of the concepts that shake up her world through her older sister Anais, who listens to Ani DiFranco, and the teacher who has a class about ostracism and oppression. Thankfully, The Earth, My Butt, & Other Big Round Things passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Granted, it's a test for movies. But still.
Conclusion: 5/5. Mackler delivers a fast, heartfelt novel. She uses complex characters and tightly drawn events to explore her themes. With each page, Virginia became a better and better character, leaving me with a sense of pride and possibility.
2011 YA Reading Challenge: 1/40
Fun Fact: The Earth, My Butt, & Other Big Round Things was on the most challenged books of 2006 list for including "sexual content, anti-family, offensive language," and being "unsuited to age group."