Friday, December 18, 2009

REVIEW: The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things

Mackler, C.  (2003).  The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.  Cambridge, MA:  Candlewick Press.


244 pages.

Appetizer:  The aptly named 15-year-old Virginia Shreves doesn't feel like she belongs to her family.  They are all thin, successful brunettes and Gin is a "chubby" blonde who can't seem to figure out the French language.  She develops a Fat Girl Code of Conduct to guide her through getting attention from another sophomore named Froggy (and no, Froggy is not a nickname.  That's his actual name).  As Gin struggles to try to make her mother proud of her, she begins to realize that maybe she should have different goals, when her dad receives a bad news phone call about her brother.

Okay, I've been meaning to read this book for several years now.  As I mentioned at one point, I really loved Vegan Virgin Valentine when I read it, and so I've been meaning to explore more of Mackler's writing for some time.  Deciding to go through some of the ALA award winner and honor books over the next month in preparation for the announcement of the new winners, seemed like an excellent reason to pick up The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things, a Printz winner.

(By the way, the award announcements will be broadcast through the internetz on January 18th  I plan to tune in--and then immediately order as many of the winners as I can afford from Amazon!  I'm just hoping this year I will have actually read some of the books! *crosses fingers and hopes all this work for the blog pays off*)

I have to say, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things wasn't quite what I had expected.  I knew it would involve a teenage girl dealing with her body image, but I'd also expected the story to be on the light, humorous, romantic comedy side of things, mainly because that's what Vegan Virgin Valentine was like.  And don't get me wrong, there's a lot of humor, lightness and a bit of romance here, but there's a lot of serious stuff going on too.

The most humorous part for me was within the first few pages when Gin is having an awkward, unromantic and very realistic make-out session with Froggy, who's trying to inch his way to second base for the first time.

What surprised me was that The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things is essentially the quintessential young adult novel.  It includes mortification a la peers, teenage rebellion, hypocritical adults, questioning of long-held beliefs, a bit of sexual experimentation and on and on.

It also includes some of the standards for the YA problem novel--date rape, eating disorders and a reassuring teacher figure as well as multiple solutions to the issues (with sometimes vaguely teachy observations from characters).  I liked the way Mackler addressed these issues.  In terms of the characters with weight loss or eating order issues, Mackler presents solutions without body issues taking over or becoming a dramatic cautionary tale (you know the kind of tale I mean, with someone tragically hospitalized, dying because of their bad decisions).

*Spoiler for mid-way through the book* I also found the way Mackler describes date rape as a topic particularly interesting.  Virginia's older brother, who she's always admired is accused of date rape at his college.  While Byron is depressed by being suspended from Columbia  I liked that Mackler shared this issue from the point of view of a date-rapist's sister.  So, often stories about issues like this are shared solely from the victim's perspective.  It was refreshing (as much as books that explore rape can make you want to take a deep breath of cool air) to read about this type of trauma from a new perspective, to see the turmoil that a family member of the rapist can go through, and to see how it impacts her perception of and relationship with her brother.  *End book spoiler*

Also, Mackler has a new book, Tangled, coming out on December 29th.  I may have to check that out down the road....

(Although, as one of my many sidenotes, dear readers,--if you've stuck with me this long, I'm guessing you'll stay with me a little longer--I have to say I'm a little disappointed by the title of Tangled.  In the past, Mackler's given us, The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things, Vegan Virgin Valentine, Guyaholic, Love and Other Four-Letter Words...Tangled seems to fall a little short, as her titles go.

Dinner Conversation:

"Froggy Welsh the Fourth is trying to get up my shirt.
This is the third Monday that he's come over to my apartment after school.  Each week we go a little further, and today, on September twenty-third at 3:17 P.M., he's begun inching his fingers across my stomach and toward my bra" (p. 1).

"It's not like Froggy Welsh the Fourth is a huge catch.  First of all, there's his name.  Not a nickname for Frank or Frederick or even Frog.  I'm still shocked that his great-great-grandparents named a son Froggy.  But what astounds me to no end is that three subsequent generations decided to follow suit" (p. 2).

"And I know that my beautiful, slim, brown-haired family wonders how they wound up with a daughter who has dishwater blond hair, pale blue eyes, a roundish face, and a larger-than-average body.
OK, fat.
Not fat fat.  More like chubby fat.
Enough so I'm picked last in gym if the activity has anything to do with running, climbing ropes, or propelling oneself over a horse.  Enough so I've heard people refer to me as plump, as if being likened to a vine-ripe tomato is some kind of compliment.  Enough so family friends, upon comparing me to my skinny siblings, raise their eyebrows as high as McDonald's golden arches.
That's the most frustrating thing.  I can't even blame it on genetics" (p. 16).

"Doesn't his sister go to Brewster?" Brinna asks.
"Yeah," says Briar.  "Virginia."
"Virginia who?" asks Brie.
Ouch.  I know Brie and I reside in different universes, but still.  We've been going to Brewster since sixth grade.  And we're in three classes together, for god's sake.
"Virginia Shreves," says Briar, cracking up.  "That chubby girl."
"No way!" Brie shrieks.  "I never knew they were related."
"Of course they are, " says Briar.  "It's not like Shreves is a common last name."
I bite down on the flesh inside my cheeks.  That chubby girl. 
After a moment Brie says, "All I can say is, if I were that fat, I'd kill myself" (pp. 25-26).

To Go with the Meal:

This is an excellent book to use to trigger discussions.  Virginia's relationship with her mother (a supposed genius when it comes to understanding the minds of adolescents) is more than a bit strained.  A mother and daughter could choose to read The Earth, My Butt and Other big Round Things to help open up honest communication in their own relationship.

It can be used in literature circles to discuss standards of beauty, body image, nutrition and exercise, date rape, teenage drinking, the way people often try to hide aspects of themselves or make things seem better than they actually are etc.

The book also makes a lot of references to many other books, so a teacher could use this as a gateway to those other authors and books, including Anais Nin, Lord Buryon, Virginia Woolf, The Scarlet Letter, One Hundred Years of Solitude, It's Perfectly Normal, among others.

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

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