Big Boned is a young adult novel about Lori, a 17-year-old protagonist who narrates the text in the first person. She is artistic, articulate, uneasy among others and fat. These characteristics dictate her development as a teenage girl in a wealthy suburban enclave near Cape Town, South Africa. Lori suffers from low self-esteem, bullying and fear, which she learns to overcome through friends, therapy and artistic success. Lori’s story could take place in many other countries; a South African setting is not central to the focus of the book.
Watson’s command of teenage language and teen sensitivities gives this story heft and a sense of real autobiography. Lori expresses her disgust with her physical image in very graphic terms. She also describes her personal feelings and observations with apt references to color and movement, highlighting her artistic bent. Watson’s use of these artistic images is a bit overdone, and the reader begins to anticipate such references.
Big Boned is, basically, a fairy tale, a “Cinderella” tale. Lori’s fate is happy. She is an ultimate winner. As the daughter of a dysfunctional, wealthy, white family – her parents are divorced and her mother is in a major mid-life crisis – the family’s financial status affords her the support and the individual opportunities she needs to help her overcome her problems and accept herself in a positive light.
Although this book may give hope and encouragement to many young adult readers, it does not provide or intend to provide insight into the broader South African society. It adds exceedingly little to the readers’ understanding of the continent.
Marylee S. Crofts, PhD
Published in Africa Access Review (October 9, 2021)
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