Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things

Title:               The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things
Category:       Realistic
Grade:            12-16
Author:          Carolyn Mackler
Publisher:       Candlewick
Place:              Cambridge, MA
Date:               2003
Pages:             246

Reminiscent of Speak, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things deals with an extremely difficult subject realistically but with a touch of humor and a positive, resilient outlook.  Virginia Shreves is not only a bit larger than average, she is the black sheep of her family, who are all intelligent, slender, and stylish.  While her older brother is wildly successful at college and her parents are prestigious and well-to-do, Virginia suffers a steady stream of cruelties from her peers at school and desperately hates the way she looks.  Along the way, she muses over the role food plays in her life, tries to find a niche in school now that her best friend has moved, and experiments with romance in the form of the local geek, Froggy.  When her perfect brother, Byron, is suspended from school for raping another student, Virginia’s world begins to come apart.  Resentful that her family continues to ostracize her and make cruel comments about her appearance while still favoring her brother, Virginia begins the search for her own identity and the strength to make decisions for herself, even in defiance of her family.  Ultimately, Virginia is not only able to come to terms with herself, but establishes her own niche at school and becomes a leader in her own right. 

A definite girl-power book, Big Round Things deals honestly with the very real issues of disordered eating and the importance of appearance in our society.  Powerful scenes of Virginia abusing her own body in tears and dealing with stress through food help send messages to teens about their bodies without being preachy, moralistic or overly factual – Mackler does a great job of showing the effects of obesity and disordered eating instead of just talking about it.  Virginia is a complex, fully realized character, although other characters in the book tend to be far more two dimensional.  Humor and a relatively straightforward plot line help keep this book readable and Virginia’s eventual self-acceptance and empowerment is heartwarming. As the title and cover of this book could easily appeal to readers younger than its intended content, it is not difficult to see why people have objected to this book frequently.  However, like Speak, the overall impact of the book is extremely positive and affirming to teens who struggle with obesity or simply disordered eating.  In spite of the often serious subject matter, the book was a lot of fun to read.  Teens will be attracted to the simple language and the realism, including Virginia’s struggles to get her parents to see her as a person and allow her to make some of her own decisions and function independently.  It is difficult to tell whether Virginia’s parents were really as shallow and callous as they are portrayed or whether that was simply her perception of them; nevertheless, teens feeling misunderstood will completely relate to this protagonist. 


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