The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler

Turtleback Books, 2003, 244 pages

Turtleback Books, 2003, 244 pages

After many, many weeks hiatus, another girly review to show the world I’m still alive and kicking (though unfortunately not reading all that much). I read this book a while ago, wrote a review, then promptly forgot to post it. Oh well, that goes to show how important it is for you dear readers to subscribe, doesn’t it?

It should surprise no one that I chose this book solely on the title. Still, it’s worth noting that this hilarious novel is also a Printz Award winner. Thankfully it lived up to my high expectations! It was every bit the girly, smart, and funny book I wanted it to be.

Virginia Shreves is our fifteen-year-old narrator, sadly characterized mostly by her weight. Virginia lives by her own “Fat Girl Code of Conduct”, which basically dictates how she interacts with the opposite sex (i.e. poorly). I felt sorry for Virginia in the first half of the book. It seems like everything in her life is working against her self-esteem: her best friend has moved away, her exercise-obsessed mom is unsupportive and undercutting, and her siblings are absent. Self-hatred saturates the first part of this book, and in such a real, believable way. The fact that it is the true inner voice of so many girls out there today is what made parts of this book really quite disturbing. There’s my warning.

The flip side of that, however, was Mackler’s ability to add wit and irreverent humour to every aspect of the story. While it touches on really serious subjects, it does so in the best way possible. It’s truthful, but it isn’t brutal.

Virginia’s real coming of age takes place through a shocking family event that rocks her world. Rather than watching it ruin her, the reader gets to see a journey toward self-actualization that is truly beautiful. I can’t say I was on the same page as Virginia the whole time – along with finding her voice and being able to stand up for herself she adopts somewhat of a silver tongue, for example – but I think that contributes to the realness of the novel. Teenagers are like that, and even the “nice girl” can’t always be super gracious.  The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things is a genuine portrait of teenaged girl-dom, and I really really liked it.

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The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth, Alexandra Robbins

Woo-hoo! Deborah tackles her first non-fiction read since…since…well, since university I guess. I don’t generally read non-fiction, at least in book form. Newspapers, magazines, and other short dosages of reality are okay, but for some reason I just don’t read as much non-fic as I feel an intelligent person should. Conclusions about my intelligence aside, this is because, in my humble opinion, non-fiction books are categorically boring. Yet, if The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth taught me anything, it’s that our categorizations can sometimes be wrong.

Geeks follows a year in the life of seven social outcasts, highs and lows carefully documented  by journalist Alexandra Robbins. Because they exist on the margins of the high school social scene, Robbins terms these individuals the “cafeteria fringe”. The “fringe” cast of this book include Danielle (The Loner), Whitney (The Popular Bitch), Eli (The Nerd), Joy (The New Girl), “Blue” (The Gamer), Regan (The Weird Girl) and Noah (The Band Geek). At first glance, each of these individuals seems to fit neatly into an arbitrary category, but by following their choices and struggles throughout a school year, we soon learn of all the ways these students are really standouts. In short, Robbins presents seven living examples of “quirk theory”, which posits that those traits that make kids seems like “outsiders” in high school are the very traits that will help them thrive in the “real world”.  What makes many kids “different” in the weirdly homogenous high school landscape is what adults and future employers will value them for: things like creativity, an ability to think outside the box, individuality, and nonconformity. It’s a really heartening, positive message, and one we should be sending our kids.

I enjoyed Geeks mainly because of the addition of the “main characters”. Between each of their chapters, which read like stories, there is an explanation that includes social-psychological research and further real life examples.  Robbins addresses questions about what popularity really is, how cliques are started and maintained, why high school generally sucks, and what we as adults should be doing about all of it. This is psychology that’s entertaining, readable, and most of all, relevant. For everyone who works in a high school, or plans to in the future, it’s essential reading.