Big Girl Small – Odd Girl Out

As we discussed for the past couple of posts, Rachel DeWoskin has a great deal of experience living as an outsider. The experiences she had in China have granted her that unique feeling of simultaneously being desired (as a beautiful exotic woman on a hit TV show) and being estranged (having negative stereotypes attributed to her for those same attributes). The protagonist of her most recent book Big Girl Small has a similar experience as a dwarf. As the starred Publisher’s Weekly review puts it, Judy Lohden has “two visions of herself—that of a pretty teenage girl with an hourglass figure who happens to be three feet nine inches tall, and that of a sideshow attraction.” She’s very talented, not the least of which are her beautiful voice, her intelligence and her wry sense of humor, the latter two showing prominently as she narrates her story. Her beauty attracts the attention of Mr. Popular Jeff Legassic, but she’s ultimately rejected as she’s humiliated at prom. In fact, she begins the book hiding out in a seedy motel, recovering from the heartbreak she suffered, a stark symbol of her isolation.

Of course, we all probably know that you don’t need to have a condition as unusual as dwarfism to be considered an outcast in high school. Any trait even a little out of the ordinary – your weight, accent, class, whether you’re gay or not – can be a point of dissent in high school society. Judy ends up befriending two more conventional outcasts: Molly, a black student at predominantly white school, and “Goth Sarah”, whose quirks can easily be imagined. The tone of the book is quite dark, as DeWoskin describes the callous treatment that little people receive, almost unthinkingly, in our culture. It’s pretty clearly a metaphor for how social rejection works. Nobody really thinks that little people or rejects deserve their fate, but they just don’t fit in with everything else. It’s easier to not care about it. “Most people are stupid as hell when it comes to things like which words are rude. And a lot of people, even once they find out which words hurt people, still like to use them. They think it’s smarmy and “PC” to have to say things kindly or that it’s too much pressure not to be able to punish freaks with words like freak.”

The title Big Girl Small is an impressively layered title. It refers to Judy’s size issues, obviously, but it also refers to how the insularity of high school culture can make any person, no matter how “big” they are, and make them feel small, “close to nothing, diminish you, make you feel like shit,” as Judy puts it. It shares a lot in common with other young adult, coming of age fiction, including a focus on social rejection, a precocious narrator, and an ending that might just be a little too positive to fit in with the story’s tone, but this is not just a “girl rises above her problems with balloons!” story that the cover suggests. Big Girl Small is set apart by the mature, dark manner with which it handles these issues. Rachel DeWoskin’s talent and experience shines through here.

— submitted by B. King

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