Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Here’s Some Young Adult Fiction

on June 30, 2013

The Earth My ButtAlright. I finished The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler.

Did I like it? I’m not sure.

Does it have relevance in today’s world and for adolescents? Absolutely.

One thing: the book is nowhere near as funny as the title. In my opinion, there’s very little to laugh at in the entire volume. Apparently, not everyone agrees with that assessment, though.

Mackler does an excellent job of capturing the brain of a fifteen-year-old with body image and other serious issues. Having been there myself, I can guarantee this.

Virginia, named for Virginia Woolf, comes from the perfect family. Older sister, Anais, is in Africa in the Peace Corp. Older brother, Byron, is the perfect student at Columbia. Mom is an adolescent psychologist who forgets her children are human beings. Dad smiles and carries on. Mom and Dad go on weekend junkets, leaving her to fend for herself in the City. All except Virginia speak French fluently. And they never, ever talk about problems, especially Virginia’s weight.

Her best friend is in Seattle for the entire school year. And she’s forming an attachment to a boy named Froggy. The other characters at school are a delightful mix. A geometry teacher who sings to the students, using their names in the songs. (I wonder if he knew my father-in-law.) A school nurse named Paul. Ms. Crowley, language arts teacher, who more than understands Virginia. The usual cheerleader types.

What Mackler does best is show how everything in Virginia’s world suddenly becomes all about Virginia. This is how many teenage brains work. (And also how many adults operate when they don’t get past that stage.) On some level, it’s good because that’s really the only way we can begin to develop empathy for others. Even when Byron manages to get suspended from college, Virginia sees it as a betrayal of all she holds sacred. To her, Byron really was perfect.

My main criticism of the story is that Virginia’s transformation is much too quick. While some sort of change is required to make a story, Virginia’s grows up completely. The entire book takes place over a matter of a few months. At the beginning, everything is about her terrible body image. She’s so “fat” she has a fat girl code of ethics. At the end, she’s fine with her body, can tell her father it’s not a safe subject, and has found a physical activity she relishes. At the beginning, Byron is perfect. At the end, he’s a human being who makes mistakes. At the beginning, her mother controls her life. At the end, Virginia does what she thinks is best. Not just as a matter of rebellion but because she is a mature woman.

But I do recommend the book. Despite my misgivings, it is well-written, has some great characters, and deals with some important issues.

ISBN: 978-0763659790

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