The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, by Tiffany Baker.
My father stepped back and examined me. Whereas Serena Jane possessed the limbs and features of a vain little pixie, my physiognomy brought to mind the heaviest and roundest of objects -- a cannonball, perhaps. Something impervious to smashes and collisions. Since I began walking at the unprecedented age of seven months, I had fallen down the stairs twice, plunged unharmed into the flower beds from the front porch, and survived being pushed into oncoming traffic by Serena Jane in our rusted red wagon. - from The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, page 32 -
Truly Plaice's birth brings out the betting folks of Aberdeen County who wonder how large a baby must be to stretch a mother to such huge proportions. But Truly's birth is also marked by the death of her mother and the beginning of her father's descent into alcoholism. Her size seems all the more incredulous when she stands next to her beautiful and petite sister Serena Jane. When the girls' father dies, Serena Jane is taken in by a wealthy couple and Truly is dropped off at the deteriorating farm of a local family. From this point on, Truly can not help but view herself as less worthy than her sister, whose beauty seems to enchant the people of Aberdeen County and attracts Bob Bob Morgan's attentions. All is not what it seems on the surface, however. As Truly grows more enormous and matures from a young girl into a woman, she must rethink the idea of beauty and come to terms with the pain and anger of her size. Redemption for Truly lies in a series of moral decisions and her ability to forgive those who have wounded her the most.
Tiffany Baker's debut novel is set in the fictional, rural town of Aberdeen -- a place where time seems to stand still.
Its sidewalks had weedy cracks that gaped bigger every winter. The bells at the firehouse sometimes locked when the weather was damp, and the newspaper had quit printing its Saturday edition. There was a recreational softball team, a ladies' gardening committee, and a brick library, but the team never won, the collective age of the gardening committee was four hundred and seven, and the print in half the books in the library was so faded and smeared, it was no longer legible. - from The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, page 49 -
The characters who people Aberdeen are quirky, flawed and carry secrets passed from one generation to the next. The novel's protagonist (Truly) is not wholly likable and yet the reader feels compelled to hear her story and understand her. Baker asks the most basic of questions in her novel: What defines who we become? How important is appearance when we determine a person's beauty? Can forgiveness redeem us?
Baker captures the essence of small town life -- the gossip, the secrets, the relationships and expectations which define each person's role within the constraints of a community.
The novel is not without its weaknesses -- at times situations seem contrived or unbelievable (such as the complete lack of investigation into the disappearance of Serena Jane, and the extent of the cruelty toward a very young Truly). Despite these faults, Baker's writing is infused with a dark humor and deep insight into what motivates her characters. And it is these qualities which keeps the reader turning the pages.
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County is not a light read -- it is disturbing at times -- and some readers may be dismayed at the moral decisions of the protagonist. But for those readers who enjoy character-driven books which take them to a new level of understanding, this one is worth the read.
Three and a half stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".