Small Girl, Big Scandal: The TFT Review of Rachel DeWoskin’s Big Girl Small
When we first encounter Judy Lohden, the sixteen-year-old protagonist of Rachel DeWoskin’s elegantly plotted second novel, her promising life as a star singer at the exclusive Darcy Arts Academy in Ann Arbor has gone wrong—so wrong that Judy has run away from home and is in hiding in a roach motel somewhere in Ypsilanti while reporters harass her parents back at their house.
Judy is your typical teenager, with two exceptions: she stands at three feet nine inches tall and has a singing voice that could land her a spot on American Idol if her parents would allow it. She loves her parents (who co-own a restaurant, Judy’s Grill, that she was named after) and two brothers, wants to be an actor (the next Peter Dinklage), and quietly longs for the adoration of popular girls like Ginger Mews at her performing arts school. Her “normal” characteristics combined with her more unusual ones serve to increase curiosity about what she could possibly have done to get in so much trouble.
What is immediately clear is that DeWoskin isn’t using her character’s size as a device, and Judy’s stature never comes across as a provocative or gratuitous move on the author’s part. Judy’s height is central to her identity, but it isn’t all of her. If anything, it may be read as a metaphor: what teenager—what person—hasn’t felt three feet tall in the face of cruelty and humiliation?
For such a small person, Judy is a huge character, witty, funny, and with a voice you want to peel off the page from her mesmerizing opening monologue:
When people make you feel small, it means they shrink you down close to nothing, diminish you, make you feel like shit. In fact, small and shit are like equivalent words in English. It makes sense, in a way. Not that small and shit are the same, I mean, but that Americans might think that. Take The Wizard of Oz, for example, an American classic everyone loves more than anything even though there’s a whole “Munchkinland of embarrassed people, half of them dressed in pink rompers and licking lollipops even though they’re thirty years old … Judy Garland apparently loved gay people, was even something of an activist, but she spread rumors about how the ‘midgets’ were so raucous, fucking each other all the time and drinking bourbon on the set.
Interspersed with present-day scenes of Judy in her motel room, where daily quiet raps on her door raise concern (she won’t answer), are flashback chapters that run through her year at Darcy, barreling toward the moment that unraveled her life. At Darcy, or D’Arts as only its students are “allowed” to call it, Judy, who is a junior, finds her out-of-place place pretty quickly: she befriends Goth Sarah, a kind outsider, and Molly, a black girl with a penchant for clashing clothes. She wins the attention of Kyle Malanack, a popular boy, and a great role in the school’s production of Runaways. She’s surprised her new life at Darcy is going so well—at least as well as a teenager can think her life can go—when it happens: the huge scandal that lands her in hiding at the sleazy Motel Manor.
When what actually occurred is finally hinted at, it’s so celebrity-scandal and tabloid-y the reader’s first thought is that the mention of the clue must be a red herring. It can’t be, you think, it can’t be that. But when it is later confirmed that yes, yes it is that, your jaw drops to the floor from the shock of the realization. The scandal is more akin to what’s expected from publicity-seeking minor celebrities than teenage little people. DeWoskin pulls off the plot twist with believability, empathy, and complete respect for her protagonist, which is no small accomplishment. Big Girl Small is both a comment on teen cruelty and being hurt by those we love, and an entertaining novel structured to maximize tension. DeWoskin’s addictive writing, Judy’s voice, and the stories of her travails make even the more mundane tales of high school life—parties, papers, teachers—engaging, because you already know it’s all headed somewhere explosive.
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 2 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 3 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 4 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 5 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Startup
- 6 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 7 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 8 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 9 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook
- 10 Shaq Confident He Will Eventually Make Funny Quip on TNT