Review: The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn MacklerMonday, June 30, 2008 16:00
You know those stereotypes about bloggers being nerds who have nothing better to do than sit there and make fun of people on the Internets instead of, y’know, getting out there and having a life? That’s me, except I don’t live in my parents’ basement and I am perfectly capable of carrying on a normal conversation outside the Internets. But I have always been and still am a fat girl. My weight has been an issue for me all my life, and I know I’m not the only one who has ever suffered from weight-related anxiety. So I was curious to pick up this book when I learned it was about a fat teenager living in trendy Manhattan. And I found that I loved Carolyn Mackler’s storytelling. The book is honest–sometimes brutally so–but it really resonated with me.
Virginia Shreves is considered the odd duck in her family. Her parents are both successful workaholics, (her mom is even a popular teen psychologist), her brother Byron is the big man on Columbia University’s campus, and her sister Anais is currently in the Peace Corps. Virginia alone feels like the ugly duckling, the defective model. She’s always been heavy, she doesn’t share any interests with either of her bright, overachieving siblings, and her best friend, Shannon (which is a great name for a best friend, IMHO) has moved all the way across the country. When disaster strikes, the relationship Virginia has with the members of her family is strained, and Virginia has to figure out who she is and who she wants to be.
I’ll be honest. If I’d been reading a physical book, I would have chucked it very hard against the wall when I first started, after I read this passage.
The Fat Girl Code of Conduct
by Virginia Shreves
1.Any sexual activity is a secret. No public displays of affection. No air-kisses blown across the cafeteria. No carefully folded notes passed in the hall. No riding the moped in public.
2. Don’t discuss your weight with him. Let’s face it. You both know it’s there, so don’t start bemoaning your body and pressure him into lying, i.e., “What are you talking about? You don’t look fat at all.”
3. Go further than skinny girls. Find ways to alert him to this, such as slutty comments peppered into the conversation. If you can’t sell him on your body, you’d better overcompensate with sexual perks.
4. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever push the relationship thing. Everybody knows that guys hate discussing relationships, so make it easy on him. Same goes for dates to movies and school dances. Bottom line: Let him get the milk without having to buy the cow.
If it hadn’t been 3 in the morning when I read this, and if I hadn’t been staying over at my parents’ house (where, sadly, there is no Internet I can access from which to blog) I’m pretty sure I would have shouted, “Excuse me? What the hell kind of message is that to be sending to our teenagers?” But then I thought about why I reacted the way I did, and realized that it’s because for a lot of overweight girls, that is the way they actually think. I know people in real life who have said a variation on points 3 and 4 who are in their twenties. And after a while I started to appreciate that Ms. Mackler is, like Virginia, not sugar-coating things.
The book continues to be brutally honest, and it’s clear there are no easy solutions to the questions it presents. Virginia herself is also very honest with the readers about what she’s thinking and feeling. I wanted to smack her a few times, but in the end, she resonated perfectly and I cheered for her when she finally took those steps toward independence and self-actualization.
Over the summer, I have been taking a children’s literature course, and during that time I’ve come to realize how incredibly easy it is to mess up writing fiction for a younger audience. I don’t know how much this book resonates with actual teenagers, but it worked very well for me and I definitely recommend it to women of all ages.
Virginia thinks the world of everyone but herself…………
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.” Her best friend and stuttering soul mate, Shannon, has moved to Walla Walla, Washington. Froggy Welsh the Fourth has succeeded in getting his hand up Virginia’s shirt, but she lives in fear that he’ll look underneath.
Then there are the other Shreves. Mom is an exercise fiend and a successful adolescent psychologist. Dad, when not jet-setting, or golfing in Connecticut, ogles skinny women on TV. Older siblings Anais and Byron are slim, brilliant, and impossible to live up to.
Delete Virginia, and the Shreves are a picture-perfect family. . . until a phone call changes everything.
You can read an excerpt here.