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The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things

Review

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things

Editor's Note: THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS first released in 2003 and was reviewed by Norah Piehl. In 2018, the book was updated to reflect modern issues and technology, and Norah reviewed the new version in April 2018.

- Click here to read Norah's review from 2003.

Review #1 by Norah Piehl

Carolyn Mackler’s beloved novel THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS has been updated for 2018 --- but the fundamental issues at its heart remain as relevant as they were 15 years ago.

Almost nothing reminds you of time’s passage like being asked to re-review a novel you first wrote about 15 years ago. When Carolyn Mackler’s THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS was first published in 2003, it was the first George W. Bush administration. The iPhone didn’t exist yet; neither did Instagram or even YouTube. Teens who were the same age as Mackler’s heroine, Virginia Shreves, back in 2003 are turning 30 now.

"The fact of the matter is that --- technologically up-to-date or not --- Mackler’s novel remains both engaging and pertinent to teen readers’ lives."

After all those years, however, Virginia herself is still 15, and about to star in a sequel to this beloved novel (and Printz Honor Book). So Mackler decided to revisit her novel and give it a bit of a facelift, mostly by updating the pop culture references and giving Virginia some modern-day technology to play with. Virginia --- who makes sense of her world by making lists --- seems like a girl who would have loved a smartphone back in the day, and the new devices Mackler has written into the plot make perfect sense for her character.

iPhones, texting and streaming Netflix videos may help bring Virginia up to date; sadly, however, the big issues underlying her story remain as relevant in 2018 as they were 15 years ago. Virginia struggles with body image; particularly in an affluent family that values status and appearances, she constantly feels inadequate and embarrassing to the rest of her picture-perfect family. Both of Virginia’s parents obsess about thinness --- Virginia’s now-svelte mom because she associates her own chubby childhood with poverty and backwardness, and Virginia’s dad because he is unapologetically drawn to thin women’s bodies. Virginia’s resentment of her own body leads her to physically harm herself; and she is so lacking in self-regard that she can’t believe that an attractive boy at school could possibly like her back.

Virginia trusts her older brother Byron --- a sophomore at nearby Columbia University --- to have her back even when her parents seem ashamed by her or when they bribe her to lose weight. But when Byron suffers his own fall from grace --- committing a terrible act that shatters Virginia’s trust and her whole conception of her brother --- Virginia may need to find strength in her anger and betrayal, strength that might help her find her own voice, her own look, her own unique way of being in the world.

Struggles over body image and self-acceptance remain as acute now as ever; and the current #metoo movement is a vivid and painful reminder of how sadly relevant the crisis facing Virginia and the Shreves family still remains. The fact of the matter is that --- technologically up-to-date or not --- Mackler’s novel remains both engaging and pertinent to teen readers’ lives. Here’s hoping that Mackler’s beloved novel finds new readers (and maybe more than a few nostalgic older ones!) who will be eager to follow Virginia into the long-awaited sequel, THE UNIVERSE IS EXPANDING AND SO AM I.


Review #2 by Norah Piehl

Virginia Shreves, heroine of THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS, feels like the ugly duckling. In her high-achieving, blonde, beautiful and thin family, chubby, brown-haired, average Virginia sticks out like a sore thumb. Her best friend has moved all the way to Washington State, and Virginia doesn't like any of the shallow, popular girls at her New York City private school. What's more, she is sure that none of the other kids at school --- especially the boys --- could possibly like someone who's carrying a few extra pounds.

Virginia would love to lose weight, but she can't seem to do it for the right reasons. Her mom, who used to be overweight herself and is now obsessed with dieting and fitness, can't understand why Virginia is unable to slim down. Her dad, who is obsessed with thin women's bodies, bribes Virginia with a shopping spree if she can lose some weight.

Virginia thinks her only ally is her older brother, Byron, who she has always idolized. But when Byron, a student at Columbia, is charged with a terrible crime, Virginia is forced to reevaluate all of the opinions she has of him, including his treatment of her and his comments about her weight. Tired of her family's avoidance of their problems, Virginia decides that she is never going to make anyone else in her family happy unless she makes herself happy first. Soon she's traveling cross-country, getting pierced and dyed, and finding her own ways to feel good about herself and her body. She may never be as thin as the rest of her family, but at least she can find ways to feel good about herself and her talents.

Carolyn Mackler's funny but touching story about being an outsider will appeal to fans of her earlier novel, LOVE AND OTHER FOUR-LETTER WORDS, as well as to readers who enjoy the novels of Meg Cabot and Megan McCafferty. Although the ending is far from satisfactory --- the webzine that Virginia creates comes out of nowhere and is a little too convenient a way for her to have a group of instant friends, for example --- the lessons Virginia learns about self-worth and self-acceptance go down easy and will appeal to anyone who has ever felt like an outsider, whether at school or in their own family.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on April 11, 2018

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