Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Earth, My Butt, and other Big Round Things - Carolyn Mackler

Summary:  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.  (Summary from back of the book and image from http://carolynmackler.com/)

My Review:  I saw this book at my school's Literacy Carnival Night and thought: I have to have it!  At the time, I didn't even realize it was on the banned books list.  Being on the banned books list did not deter me from reading it, but I'm afraid it failed to live up to the title quite as much as I'd hoped. 

My overall feeling about this book was lukewarm--it just wasn't as funny as I'd hoped it would be. The storyline was ok; it followed Virginia through a painful early high school year as she navigated the artificial social chaos that is high school.  While Virginia is sympathetic on some levels, she's also very extreme, which led me -- though perhaps not all readers -- to step back and want to scrutinize her actions.  As a result, I couldn't place myself completely in Virginia's shoes.  I knew her life was supposed to be a very painful experience, but Mackler wasn't able to make me forget that it wasn't me going through it.  I did feel badly for her, but I couldn't completely justify all her actions, making the book only slightly painful during parts you know are supposed to be excruciating.

There were many aspects of this book that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I believe the depiction of Virginia's family was very real: her mother not wanting to talk about anything therefore being the ultimate hypocrite; her father's hurtful, but fairly oblivious comments about what a female should look like; her brother's self-centered persona; his fall from grace when he pushes past the limits of what is ever acceptable; and her distant older sister who saw the family for what they really were, but runs away instead of staying.

And then there is Virginia, forgotten, ignored, pampered Virginia.  She had parts to her personality that were very mature for her age, and other aspects that were stunted far behind what I'd expect of a high school girl.  It's hard for me to really feel sorry for Virginia when her lifestyle is not that tough.  She lives in Manhattan, goes to a private school, doesn't have to worry about where her next meal will come from, and has the world at her fingertips.  What is realistic about Virginia is her self-centered view on life.  It was so fitting for her to only see how tough things were for her and not realize how much harder so many people have it.  Her realization, that life is hard for others, was necessary and refreshing, although I think she still had quite a ways to go.

For a more sensitive reader, I could easily see why this made the banned books list.  Not because there was so much risque, offensive content, but more for the message and the swearing.  I could easily see conservative parents not being comfortable with a character who questions her parents every decision, pushes the limits, talks back and has blow-out fights with her parents in public,  travels across the country without her parents initial consent, has a secret "friend with benefits," and wants to fool around farther than many parents would find acceptable, among other things.  There is also profanity.  Honestly, I can ignore quite a bit of swearing in a book, so this didn't bother me that much, but there were a couple F-bombs dropped and other various swear words used.

Ultimately, I believe there is an audience for this book, but I'd be very selective to whom I recommend it. 

My Rating:  3.5 stars

Sum it up:  A slightly painful peek into an adolescent girl's world who struggles with fitting in and her body size.

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