________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 22 . . . . June 27, 2008


Big Guy. (Orca Soundings).

Robin Stevenson.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2008.
106 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55143-910-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55143-912-9 (hc.).

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Bryannie Kirk.

*** /4


Ethan is still chatting away, saying I look just how he imagined, but somehow I don't feel like talking anymore.

I type a quick reply, make an excuse. eth? dad's yelling something. gtg.

I log out and walk down the hall to the bathroom. I slide the dead bolt, locking the door behind me. Slowly, I pull my black T-shirt off over my head and stare at the reflection in the mirror. Rolls of fat, white slabs of blubber and misery. I grab fistfuls of it, dig my fingernails in hard enough to leave sharp red crescent-shaped marks. That picture I sent? It was taken last year, before Mom left. Before I packed on all this fat.

That was a good eighty pounds ago. You wouldn't even recognize me if you saw me now. I barely recognize myself.


Since his mom left his abusive father for a religious commune in California, Derek and his father have barely spoken, other than the few words necessary for narrowly functioning as a household of two. His mom has been gone for a year, and since then 16-year-old Derek has dropped out of high school and packed 80 extra pounds onto his tall frame. His childhood nickname, "Big Guy," suddenly takes on a new and cruel meaning.

     Things begin to look like they're improving when Derek gets a new job as a care aide at a nursing home by lying about his age and his experience – basically about everything. Derek's online boyfriend, Ethan, has sent the good news that he will be coming to Ontario from B.C. for his sister's wedding, allowing for the possibility of their first in-person meeting. The problem is, Derek has just sent the handsome Ethan a picture of himself before his mother left and before he became depressed and gained the 80 pounds. Instead of explaining his lie, Derek breaks up with Ethan to avoid the inevitable in-person rejection that he feels he just couldn't handle.

     As he gets to know a resident in the nursing home, Aaliyah, a thirty-something woman whose life was irreversibly changed by a brain aneurism, he begins to realize that pretending not to care is an act of cowardice as well as protection. In between being kicked out of his childhood home when he is forced to come out to his alcoholic father, and breaking up with Ethan, Derek finds the resolve to give the people he cares for the freedom to make their own decisions.

     Big Guy is geared towards upper-level teenagers with low reading levels. "Orca Soundings" is a series published by Orca Book Publishers that features high interest, low reading level novels. The reading level for this particular novel is grade 2.9, and most of the books in the "Orca Soundings" series are between grade 2.0 and grade 4.5 reading levels. There are nearly fifty titles in the series, all with varying subjects and reading levels.

     Despite Big Guy's short length and simple vocabulary, the story is engrossing and heartfelt, allowing the reader to identify with Derek and with the themes that are introduced. The subject matter deals with real-life and controversial issues: sexuality, online relationships, friendship, alcohol abuse, and parental abandonment in a way that is completely accessible for upper-level teens who struggle with reading. Without "writing down" to her audience, Stevenson deals with controversial and emotional issues with sensitivity and realism. The large amount of dialogue is realistic, and the open-ended conclusion allows for individual interpretation as well as discussion. As a hi/low novel, Big Guy deals with serious issues in a compelling and, overall, in a positive way.


Bryannie Kirk is a student in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature program at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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