Genre: Realistic Fiction, Sports
Thirteen-year-old Bennett and his father have been doing just fine in the eight years since his mother passed away from Stage 4 cancer. They might not talk as much as they should and his father has been more tired than usual lately, but the teen believes they have a good thing going. Baseball and burgers, just like it should be.
Until his father suddenly collapses.
Now it seems like Bennett is learning a whole now vocabulary related to medical treatment, rehabilitation, and health insurance. He’s stuck living with his overbearing Aunt Laura and her family until his father is well enough to come home. Unfortunately, she’s decided to make Bennett’s physical health her personal project. On top of this crud sundae he’s been dished are a sprinkling of bullies, angry best friends, suddenly chatty girls, terrible gym classes, sports tryouts, and…an inkling of a notion. Just a glimmer in the back of his head that maybe, just maybe, he might have more to him than his weighty exterior might suggest.
I liked this book better than I thought I would, but then, my expectations for it were low. I mean, low. I’m talking last-limbo-level, corgis-versus-greyhounds-at-the-puppy-bowl low. I’m always leery of “fat kid slims down” books because so often they’re written by earnestly smiling, well-meaning, extra-chipper camp-counselor types, the kind of people who happily eat some lettuce and half a plain yogurt for lunch and are miraculously full until dinner. The kinds of people who don’t know what it’s like to be fat and don’t care that it isn’t always the result of a sedentary lifestyle, that genetics and hormones and uncontrollable factors can play a part, too.
People like Aunt Linda, basically.
Oh, Aunt Linda. How did I loathe thee? Let me count the ways. Even her little conversation with Bennett towards the end of the book didn’t make me like her. I know too many women like her to like her. She’s the quintessential suburban soccer mom: always hovering, always butting in, in desperate need of an actual outside-the-house job so she could have something to do with her life other than try to control everyone else. She rushes into the hospital late and harrasses both Bennett and the nurses about Bennett’s father after pretty much ignoring that side of the family for years. She boldly declares so the entire world can hear that Bennett has no other family to take him in; she is literally the only person who cares enough to help. She’s vile from the start in a way that so few antagonists are: she’s the kind of antagonist with absolutely no redeeming qualities, who coats her venom with honey and takes advantage wherever she can.
Bennett, on the other hand, is great.
He is shy; that’s a huge issue that he deals with throughout the book. He’s also overweight, and he knows it. Aunt Linda tries to push him into doing things he doesn’t want to do, but he’s such a marshmallow that he agrees. I can relate; I used to be that way when I was his age, too. But what I love about him is that, ultimately, he is the one who decides to change. Aunt Linda gives him carrot sticks and an apple for lunch; he gives his best friend money for emergency junk food and eats snacks from the hospital vending machine after school. His aunt declares that he’ll be getting up early to run with his uncle; Bennett agrees, but under the condition that he be allowed to walk and he determine the distance and such. It’s awesome watching him come out of his shell and stick up for himself. He’s does get on board with diet and exercise, but only because it’s his choice, not because anyone is forcing him to. Fry’s message seems to be the old saw about leading horses to water, but in this case, she did an excellent job of creating a character who buys into the system because he chooses to—he wants to see if he can hack it, not because he’s told to.
Also missing is the message that “thin = happy, fat = unloveable.” Bennett’s best friend, P. G., is also overweight, but he’s got charisma and charm and a joke for every occasion. He’s flirty and friendly and well-liked, even if his only best friend is Bennett. Bennett, too, catches the eye of one of his classmates, and as he grows more confident, so does their relationship. It’s obvious from the way that Fry writes that his confidence comes from success in sports and his dad’s slow-but-sure recovery, not from the fact he’s losing weight. That and the fact that his elder cousin and aunt are both thin but miserable human beings underscore the lack of this harmful message.
So yes, I enjoyed it more than I expected to. I probably wouldn’t reread it (Aunt Laura isn’t good for my blood pressure), but it’s not the worst book with an overweight narrator that I’ve come across. So…semi-kudos to Fry?
This book goes against the grain of most character-loses-weight books, which is refreshing, but it’s brought down by some awful, potentially triggering character archetypes.
- Students who like realistic fiction
- People like Aunt Linda, so they might realize they’re being jerks
- Bullying: characters experience bullying and are given little to no assistance from adults in dealing with it
- Death: references to dead characters
- Deceit: characters sneak around in order to trick others
- Lying: characters lie to one another
- Religion: some characters have religious families, and prayer/religious observances are mentioned
- Shaming: characters are made to feel shame about their appearances and personalities
- Swearing: some minor swear words are used
- Violence: some characters get into physical altercations with one another
- Growing Up
- Physical Illness
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|Suspension of Disbelief||2|
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|Mechanics (spelling, grammar, punctuation)||2|