by Carolyn Mackler
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Dec 9th 2008
Virginia Shreeves is 15 years old and she lives in New York City. Her mother is an adolescent psychologist, her father is a software executive, her older sister is in the Peace Corps, working in western Africa, and her brother is a sophomore at Columbia University. It's a pretty wealthy lifestyle, with her parents going off to their cottage in Connecticut every weekend, leaving Virginia and her brother Byron in their Manhattan residence. All the rest of her family are thin, but she is plump. Carolyn Mackler's young-adult novel tells the story of a year in her life as she starts making out with a boy, getting humiliated by the skinny girls at school, is told by her mother that she needs to go on a diet, fights with her mother on a regular basis, tries some rebellious behavior, and deals with a family crisis involving the criminal behavior of one of her siblings. Virginia is ashamed of her body, and although she is happy for her pal "Froggy" to touch it, she won't let him see it. When she is stressed, Virginia mostly copes by eating junk food, and so when her family tells her she needs to lose weight or she feels isolated by her weight from people at school, she calms herself by eating. Of course, this just makes problems work. Virginia is especially isolated this year because her best friend Shannon has gone with her family to New Zealand, and she can only communicate with her by email, instant messaging and the occasional phone call. Shannon has a problem with stuttering, and so the two girls bond over their outsider status.
Mackler makes Virginia a smart and funny narrator of her own story. Although she has plenty of worries, she is also feisty and insightful. Even when she is mistaken or confused, she is articulate in her error. For example, she spells out The Fat Girl Code of Conduct: she says that she is not allowed public displays of affection, she needs to go further than other girls, and she should not hope to find the best boyfriends. So she does not expect Froggy to acknowledge at school, and does not complain when he ignores her. Virginia looks at her teachers, her school, and her parents with a skeptical eye, and even when her own self-esteem is low, she is able to see other people's faults quite clearly.
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things is entertaining and touching. It is occasionally sexually frank, although nothing happens that teenagers will not be familiar with. Not many books provide stories of heavy girls in the modern world, and Virginia is an appealing character, even though her life is in many ways privileged. Many teen readers should enjoy Mackler's book. The unabridged audiobook is read by Johanna Parker and her performance is strong.
© 2007 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.