by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan
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Pub Date 12 Jul 2022 | Archive Date 30 Jun 2022
W. W. Norton & Company, Liveright
Exquisitely compassionate and witty, Big Girl traces the intergenerational hungers and desires of Black womanhood, as told through the unforgettable voice of Malaya Clondon.
In her highly anticipated debut novel, Mecca Jamilah Sullivan explores the perils—and undeniable beauty—of insatiable longing.
Growing up in a rapidly changing Harlem, eight-year-old Malaya hates when her mother drags her to Weight Watchers meetings; she’d rather paint alone in her bedroom or enjoy forbidden street foods with her father. For Malaya, the pressures of her predominantly white Upper East Side prep school are relentless, as are the expectations passed down from her painfully proper mother and sharp-tongued grandmother. As she comes of age in the 1990s, she finds solace in the music of Biggie Smalls and Aaliyah, but her weight continues to climb—until a family tragedy forces her to face the source of her hunger, ultimately shattering her inherited stigmas surrounding women’s bodies, and embracing her own desire. Written with vibrant lyricism shot through with tenderness, Big Girl announces Sullivan as an urgent and vital voice in contemporary fiction.
About the Author: Mecca Jamilah Sullivan is an associate professor of English at Georgetown University, and the author of Blue Talk and Love, winner of the Judith A. Markowitz Award from Lambda Literary.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 13 members
This is a moving, compassionate coming-of-age story of a young, black, extremely obese teenage girl/woman in Harlem. The story is painted slowly, empathetically as we come to experience her experience in her family, her school, and community as a fat black teenager. What sets this story apart is the attention to her inner life and the caring Sullivan gives to the main characters- Malaya, her mother and father, and her maternal grandmother.
Less attention but no less vividly introduced are her friends and sometime lovers, and her frustration with that aspect of her social relationships. Additionally, her family's pressure on her to lose weight is slowly brought to our attention that this is not only an issue they have with Malaya's weight and body, but their own-- mother, grandmother- and their experience as black women.
Instead of being told they hold pain and shame in their bodies, we are moved to feel that shame. It is a gift to be able to write in such a way as to not didactically inform the reader of the characters' emotions and motivations, but invoke those feelings in the reader.
I am looking forward to Sullivan's future work. Many thanks to NetGalley for the eARC.
BIG GIRL by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan is a masterclass in character-driven storytelling. All of the characters--even secondary characters who were in the narrator's life briefly--are well developed and feel like they have fully formed lives they live off the page. Malaya, her mother, and her maternal grandmother felt like people I've known in my life, especially the two adult women who continue to pass down the harmful, fatphobic language they have been told all their lives. I would have spent hundreds more pages with these women and I have continued to think about them even though I finished the book a week ago. (I could not put the book down!)
I can't wait to have BIG GIRL on my shelves and share it with my creative writing students. Thank you for the opportunity to read the e-galley. I'll definitely be planning lessons that utilize BIG GIRL for my fall writing classes!
Beautiful writing about a young girl in Harlem's struggle with her weight and how others view her. The exploration of all the characters- Malaya, her parents, and her grandmother, was done with such precision and vulnerability. I felt for Malaya in navigating a fatphobic world as someone in a larger body, and to see how that shame was passed down through the generations.
What a heartbreakingly beautiful story! Mecca Jamilah Sullivan's "Big Girl" truly impacted me more than any book has in a very long time. It made me cry, laugh, angry and made me think about my own life and reflect on things that have gotten me to where I am and made me who I have become. There are themes in this book that are universal and relatable to so many, but also so intimate and personal that it will really hit some of us right in the feels.
At eight years old, Malaya's mother is dragging her to Weight Watchers meetings, when she'd much rather be at home painting in her room or hanging out with her friends on the streets of Harlem. Under the constant pressure from her mother and her predominantly white upper class school to lose weight, Malaya is unable to stick to the program and for the next several years she continues to gain weight. So much so that she stops attending school and cuts herself off from the world. But then a family tragedy forces her to take a look at her life and find out who she truly is, outside of the expectations of her family, society and even herself.
Oh I so loved this book! Sullivan is a phenomenal writer, and if this is her debut I will most definitely be checking out her future works. Her story flows so well, almost as if it's written in prose with its vivid imagery and detail, it elicits some kind of emotion response from every word. The MC Malaya was written beautifully. An introvert to those around her, yet to the reader she is dynamic, smart, sensitive, funny, insecure yet trying her hardest to find out exactly who she is. This is such a wonderful coming of age story. One that takes the reader through every major milestone of growing up, yet really puts a personal aspect on all the events. Will everyone relate to what Malaya is going through? I think yes. We've all been there in some way, we know her pain and her struggles, which makes it so much more enjoyable when we get to see her triumphs.
I especially enjoyed how Sullivan uses the gentrification of Harlem and the surge of hip hop and r&b of the 90s to reflect Malaya's journey. As her city changes, she struggles to find her identity. She struggles to go against the intergenerational pressure from her mother and grandmother to be thin, to get a good man and be a good wife. Through the music of Biggie Smalls and Aaliyah she finds two prophets who she believes speak her truth, yet she can't find that voice in herself. I love that this novel takes you through about ten/twelve years of this woman's life. We get to really see her grow up, grow into herself and find her way. Its not just one instant in her life that makes her the person she becomes to be, but so many, many instances. And it's lovely to be able to see those moments shape her, for better or for worse.
I would highly recommend this book...well, to everyone! I think there is something her for everyone to relate to. It's entertaining and engaging, personal and intimate. Thank you Net Galley and WW Norton & Company for giving me an advanced copy.
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