Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Big Girl Small" by Rachel DeWoskin

Combing a fresh, funny, teenage voice with the concerns about youth sex, Big Girl Small is a worthwhile take on the coming of age story.

Where DeWoskin really shines is in creating the voice of her 17-year-old dwarf protagonist, Judy.  When the novel begins, Judy is narrating from a dilapidated motel as she hints as the horrible event that has led her to run away and consider remaining in seclusion at the seedy establishment for the rest of her life.  Judy narrates the events leading up to her current plight, starting with her entry into Darcy, a prestigious performing arts high school.  Judy is a fabulous singer and knows it, but she has typical and not-so-typical concerns about entering a new school: Will I make friends? Will I like my classes? Will other students think the school admitted me just because I'm a little person?  DeWoskin expertly captures the paradoxes of young adulthood: Judy is confident and insecure; she wants independence but also needs her family's support; she wants her teachers to like and respect her, but she doesn't shy away from alcohol, marijuana, and sex.  All of this is encapsulated in the snarky, intelligent, and fun voice of Judy.  She's authentic and uncensored, a good person but not innocent and childish.  Her dwarfism is an essential part of who she is, but it's not the only part of her, and neither Judy nor those around her make it the defining aspect of her personality.

Judy's such an engaging narrator that at times I felt the beginning was difficult to read.  There are such strong hints at the terrible event to come (it's easy to guess what happened long before the reader gets to the actual event) that it's hard to enjoy the happy and successful moments she initially experiences.

The voice of Judy is so integral to the novel itself, and once the terrible event happens, I felt like some of that was lost.  Clearly that makes sense in some way--what happens would destroy the best of us--but it also felt less her that other parts of the book. 

Through it all, Judy has amazingly (almost unbelievably) supportive family members, friends, and teachers.  The friends are nuanced and detailed, which I loved, and I wish their unwavering support was typical of more young people.  In fact, throughout, Judy's experience is treated remarkably sensitively, and I can only hope that is reflective of a shift in the way we treat victims and perpetrators of sexual assault.

Because of the strong content, Big Girl Small would probably not be recommended to (at least young) teenagers, but, for adults, it gives a nuanced look into one teenager's mind.


  1. I'm reading this one right now! Am loving all of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti references, since I went to college in Ypsi. I am also absolutely loving Judy's voice - I just got to the terrible event, so I'll be on the lookout for how it changes from here on out. So glad to see this getting some attention elsewhere!

  2. It's good to here you're reading it--I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere else either. Without a doubt Judy's voice made the book for me. I think I would have liked it just as much if it had been about nothing more than an "average" junior year at Darcy.