Friday, July 04, 2008

Big Fat Manifesto

Vaught, Susan. 2008. Big Fat Manifesto.

This is the third 2008 novel I've read this year (within the past two weeks actually) that deal with "weight" in one way or another. Each of these books (Looks, Artichoke's Heart, and Big Fat Manifesto) is unique from the others. Each is in some ways flawed. Some more than others, but still none is perfectly perfect.

Jamie D. Carcaterra is a writer on her high school's newspaper. At the beginning of her senior year, Jamie starts a new column. A column she hopes will win her the National Feature Award for outstanding journalism. Her column is a manifesto of what it's like to be a "fat girl."

"I am so sick of reading books and articles about fat girls written by skinny women. Or worse yet, skinny guys. Tell me, what in the name of all that's cream and chocolate do skinny guys know about being a fat girl?
The fat girl never gets to be the main character. She never gets to talk, really talk, about her life and her feelings and her dreams. Nobody wants to publish books about fat girls, by fat girls, or for fat girls, except maybe diet books. No way." (1)
Thus begins the book and her first "fat girl" column. Jamie is a great character. She may be a fat girl but she's not your stereotypical fat girl: lonely, friendless, dateless and a person who is lacking in ALL self-esteem and confidence.
Let me shoot down a few myths right now, before you even set up a stereotype:

Myth number one: Speak gently to poor Fat Girl. She can't help her terrible disability.
Myth number two: Poor Fat Girl needs to be educated about her problem.
Myth number three: Poor Fat Girl laughs to hide her tears.
Myth number four: Poor lonely Fat Girl can't get a date.
Myth number five: All poor Fat Girl wants to do is lose weight. (2-4, largely abbreviated)
Chapter one: "I have two must-achieve-or-die goals this year. The first do-or-die is probably the easiest: Write the best Fat Girl feature series ever, expose the politics and social injustices of being a fat female in today's world, and win the National Feature Award to ensure my collegiate funding. The second do-or-die, related to the first, is earning admission to Northwestern University." (6)

Jamie's voice is wonderful. I loved it. I especially especially loved her Fat Girl columns. They were true. They were authentic. They were needed. The novel focuses on Jamie's life. Her mostly crazy, often chaotic life where she is juggling writing, acting, and studying on top of having a boyfriend (Burke) and several girl friends (NoNo and Freddie). Her parents hardly enter into the picture at all. The central plot of this one is her relationship with two guys: Burke and Heath, her editor-in-chief. Burke, her boyfriend, is a Fat Boy himself. However, he decides to have weight-loss surgery. A decision that Jamie can't quite support with her head and her heart. Surgery is risky and dangerous and so drastic a step, isn't it? And if he has the surgery, how much of him--his personality, his life-style--will he lose along with all those pounds? Will she still be his fat-girl goddess once he's a muscular hunk? Heath, her editor, becomes a close friend. He's there for her and with her when all the chaos of her life begins to unfold--Burke's surgery, the columns continuing media circus, etc. (The local media has picked up on her "fat girl" columns and decided that Jamie is dangerous and promoting a "fat" lifestyle just because she's not a lonely, depressed, pitiable girl with NO self esteem or self-worth. Because she's fat and okay with being fat...she must be a menace to society, right????)

I loved almost everything about Big Fat Manifesto. However, if Big Fat Manifesto has a weakness then it is in the character development of minor characters. NoNo and Freddie are nothing more than one-sided stereotypical characters. (Freddie the side-kick lesbian; NoNo the sidekick vegetarian, animal-rights protester.) They lack the "flesh" they need to stand on their own. Burke, Jamie's boyfriend, is more developed than Freddie and NoNo, however, he doesn't have that sparkle and depth that a proper boyfriend should. Heath, on the other hand, seems to have a charm and substance and vitality that I noticed from his first introduction. But Jamie? Jamie's development is complete.

Other reviews: Melissa in Estella's Revenge, TeenReads, Teens Read Too, ProperNoun, Tales from the Rushmore Kid, MatriFocus, Curled Up, Oops, Wrong Cookie, Book Divas, Alternative Teen Services, Review & React, Abby the Librarian,
*if you've reviewed this one, you can leave a link in the comments and I'll add you in*

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