Big Girl Small, by Rachel DeWoskin (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2011)
"Judy Lohden is your above-average sixteen-year-old -- sarcastic and vulnerable, talented and uncertain, full of big dreams for a big future. With a singing voice that can shake an auditorium, she should be the star of Darcy Academy, the local performing arts high school. So why is a girl this promising hiding out in a seedy motel room on the edge of town?
"The fact that the national media is on her trail after a controversy that might bring down the whole school could have something to do with it. And that scandal has something -- but not everything -- to do with the fact that Judy is three feet nine inches tall.
"Rachel DeWoskin remembers everything about high school: the auditions (painful), the parents (hovering), the dissection projects (weird but compelling), the friends (outcasts), the boys (crushable), and the girls (complicated), and she lays it all out with an unparalleled wit and wistfulness. Big Girl Small is a scathingly funny and moving book about dreams and reality, at once light on its feet and profound."
"When people make you feel small, it means they shrink you down close to nothing, diminish you, make you feel like shit."
This was a happy accident. Picked this one up at the library for who knows what reason; I guess just because the title or the cover caught my eye. And I'm glad I did. Stayed up way too late getting into it last night, and then finished up today after knocking off work (had no choice, system was down. Really.)
On one level, the jacket blurb nails it: DeWoskin does have an eye for nailing those details that make high school both memorable and excruciating. The compulsion, even though you know you shouldn't, to throw your loyal but equally-outcast friend over when a pretty, popular girl invites you to hang out. The all-but-total paralysis that can affect otherwise strong and independent young women when That Guy deigns to give you the time of day. The simultaneous love and irritation with parents and younger siblings. You get the idea.
Then on top of this, this fairly short book has a lot to say about the tension -- strongest in adolescence, but never really absent -- between our longing to fit in, and our desire to stand out. Owing to her stature and proportions, Judy can't really help doing the latter when she transfers to the local performing arts high school, and hopes less to belong then to go unnoticed. With a few exceptions -- dancer Goth Sarah, nerdy but kooky Molly, and surprisingly, gorgeous Ginger -- she sort of succeeds (despite being the only junior admitted to a prestigious senior voice class). That is, until BMOC Kyle turns out to be surprisingly friendly and candid, even offering to drive Judy home. You know early on that things between them don't turn out well -- in fact, they go badly enough to convince Judy her life is over, and send her from her loving (if occasionally overprotective) family in Ann Arbor to the dingy Motel Manor in Ypsilanti -- but I won't spoil more than that; part of the book's art lies in the way Judy and the author roll the trauma out slowly, piece by piece.
A tremendously compelling story, with a fitting ending.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.