Book: Mackler, Carolyn. The Earth, My Butt, & other Big Round Things. York, PA. Candlewick Press, 2003.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: 9th-11th grade
Read Aloud: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4je0-vo_F4
Summary: Virginia Schreves was born into a seemingly perfect family that she has never fit into. Both of her parents as well as her older brother and sister all have perfectly slender bodies, looks to die for, and are incredibly popular. While her family appears to be ideal, Virginia is large, her only friend has moved away, and often finds comfort in food when she is sad or lonely. When her perfect older brother, who she has idolized her entire life, is suspended from the university he attends for date rape the family perfect life comes to a halt and she finds that appearance is not always what is important in life. By the end of the novel Virginia finds that her appearance can empower her and once she finds happiness in herself everything else seems to fall into place.
Sexuality: After becoming growling curious about sex, Virginia begins hooking up with a boy from school in order to experiment with the new urges she is having. She idolizes her brother until he is suspended from his university for date raping a girl, the thought of sex is suddenly turned into a topic of fear for Virginia. After writing off her first hook up, in a not so nice way, and working through the terrible thought of her older brother traumatizing an innocent girl by raping her, she eventually finds her way back to the boy she initially pushed away.
Body Image/Weight: Throughout the novel Virginia struggles with her weight and the crash diets she engages in as well as the binge eating she uses as a way to cope with her emotions. Her entire family is consumed by appearance and she often feels as though she embarrasses them because of her weight. Finding refuge in few people, she pushes others away as a way to avoid possible rejection. By the end of the novel she begins to gain confidence in herself and her eating habits improve, as well as her overall happiness.
Connections: Based on the theme of body image that is incredibly prevalent in this novel I would like to use it in combination with the young adult novel Wintergirls. I would use these novels in the classroom to show the effect of eating disorders on individuals because in Wintergirls the main character is anorexic, yet Virgina in The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things binges with periods of crash dieting. Students could learn the importance of acceptance for not only yourself but others. The romance aspect can also be important for students to obtain healthy relationships with members of the opposite and have a proper outlet for questions they may have about new found sexuality and dating.
Reactions: I liked this book a lot. I think it is a great tool for young girls to gain an understanding of acceptance of all types of body images, not just tall and slender. It reminded me a lot of how I felt growing up and experiencing my first crush and finding a place in my high school. I really loved that Mackler exemplified the need for confidence in yourself and how happiness follows. The characters were easy to connect with and I found myself hurting when Virginia was hurting and rooting for her happiness throughout the whole novel.
A reader on goodreads.com found these characters to be realistic and easy to connect to. The character of virginia could easily be someone you know, you go to school with, or even you. They enjoyed the novel very much.
“Realistic characters. Well written. Virginia could be someone you actually know. Virginia could even be you. Anyone who’s ever been given a variation of the criticism, “You could be pretty if…” and anyone who was “chubby” in high school and looked down on for it will be able to greatly empathize with Virginia.
One thing that struck a note of reality with me was Virginia’s mother. I used to teach and had a student who transferred to my school a couple of months into the school year. She was in one of my classes. Her transfer grades were excellent, all As and Bs. Remarks and comments in her file from previous teachers indicated she was also well behaved and nice to be around. All that changed when she came to the school where I was teaching. Her mother had gone back to work as a child pyschologist, overseeing an entire hospital based clinic for troubled teens. The mother was so focused on her work and so convinced her two children were “perfect” that when her son and daughter both began acting out at school, the woman refused to believe it was her children. She kept trying to blame everyone else. She actually said in a conference with one of the vice principals and me that her daughter was NEVER a problem until she came to us and clearly we had it out for her child. Later, that vice principal told me that before I arrived for the meeting, he’d mentioned that it wasn’t just big behaviors and failing grades that was getting the girl in trouble but small things as well such as gum chewing. The mother stood there hotly denying her daughter even chewed gum while the girl stood right beside her blowing huge, pink bubbles and popping them. Reading the constant denial and unwillingness to see her children’s imperfections that Virginia’s mother displays throughout the book reminded me so much of this woman I met years ago.
Another theme that strikes a reality note is Virginia turning her anger onto herself, both physically and mentally. Anyone who’s ever pinched, hit, cut, or burned themselves and had thoughts of, “If only I weren’t fat/stupid/ugly/short/tall/etc” will truly grasp the torment Virginia puts herself through.
An excellent book that I highly recommend”
Another reader on goodreads.com also found the characters to be likeable yet she had issues with Virginia’s reliance on Byron as a way of coming to terms with her sexuality.
“The Earth, My Butt, and other Big Round Things” is the story of a girl, struggling to find her place, accept her size, and take charge of her life. While I found Virginia’s voice to be relatable and incisive, I can’t in good conscious give it more than a three star rating. Byron’s actions felt like a contrived plot device that distracted me from Virginia’s voice. It would have been more prudent for the author to allow Virginia to come into her own acceptance and revelations of the imperfections of her family on her own accord, not via a familial incident. Nevertheless, this story is an enjoyable read that I would certainly recommend to female readers.”