Sasha Paley's Huge
Book review by Monica Friedman
Two Teens with Little in Common Survive a Summer at Fat Camp
The ABC Family channel adapted this novel into an intelligent, nuanced, and entertaining drama, starring some fairly well-known actors, whose performances brought the characters to life in some of the smarter adolescent programming I’ve ever watched. Naturally, this show was cancelled after ten episodes due to low ratings, despite receiving a fair amount of critical regard.
While the show deviated from the novel in many ways, if you’re dying to find out whether Wil gets kicked out of camp, makes any real friends, or loses any weight, reading the book is now the only way to learn.
Unfortunately, for a YA novel, it’s fairly run-of-the-mill. The writing suffers from clunky descriptions, over-explanation, and little character development. However, it does have some worthy moments.
YA book review - Sasha Paley's Huge
The character of Wilhemina (“Just Wil”) Hopkins is essentially the same, but here she is less sharp, less funny than on the show. Rather than lightening the atmosphere with her sarcasm and self-deprecating wit, the prose Wil just has a chip on her shoulder and an acid tongue. When she decides, “I’ll be the only girl in the history of Wellness Canyon to gain weight,” she’s not saying it for a laugh. She’s trying to spite her parents. When she brushes off her bunkmate, who has saved her pennies for more than a year for the privilege of attending, she does so with malice, taking her anger out on the most vulnerable person around, in a way that is crushing to the approval seeking girl: “I don’t want to be friends. …go find someone who cares.”
Wil’s roommate, April, is fighting an uphill battle.
Her obese single mother is on disability and requires a Rascal scooter to get around. Her diet consists of “whatever was five for five dollars at one of the fast food restaurants” and “bulk food purchases from Costco: macaroni and cheese, twelve-packs of soda, tubs of mayo and peanut butter.” Well into the story, April receives a call from home and learns that her mother has been diagnosed with type II diabetes. This comes after her mother unthinkingly tries to sabotage her diet by sending her a care package full of peanut butter cookies. But it’s all very standard, and lacks the little surprises in character development of the series. April is presented as a pathetic, social climbing loser who would be skinny if only she weren’t surrounded by junk food, and cool if she just stopped caring.
For the most part, none of the other characters are developed at all: the camp director, the popular boy, the “barely chubby” girls, and the boys who hang out with Wil and April are mostly one-dimensional foils for Wil and April’s antagonistic relationship. The bulk of the plot revolves around the girls’ dealings with handsome jock, Colin. When he drunkenly kisses both girls in the same night, and then publicly embarrasses them the next morning, they band together in a predictable plot twist involving boxes of crushed Ex-Lax and a jar of protein powder. It’s good fun for a revenge fantasy, and it’s certainly appealing to underdog kids yearning to take the popular ones down a notch, but it doesn’t go much beyond that.
YA book review - Sasha Paley's Huge
If the suspense is killing you, don’t worry: April and Wil both end up losing weight. Despite gaining three pounds in the first half of camp, Wil ends up losing enough to please her fitness-obsessed parents. April, who started off over two hundred pounds, loses enough that she now considers herself “skinny.” The central message of Huge is that friends are really important, and you shouldn’t be mean to yours, even if you don’t want them. Also, that anyone with the money to go to fat camp can lose all the weight over one summer and become a “brand-new person.” Fun for those who want to read a light YA story about weight loss.
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