… is totally the way I will remember Sydney Salter’s book, which in actuality is named MY BIG NOSE AND OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS. (Blog readers may recall this as the book I called out for its curly hair blunders, in what is now our most-read and most-linked post here at Underage Reading; Salter gets cool points for having a good sense of humor about the whole thing.)
I actually really didn’t like MY BIG NOSE much at first. It’s going for this breezy, contemporary tone, but I found a lot of the writing sufficiently generic at the line level that it just felt forced. The characterization, especially early on, also comes in really broad strokes in a way I found off-putting. Like, check this out:
“It’s going to be the best summer ever.” [... Hannah] fanned herself with her certificates for Outstanding Community Service, Super School Spirit, and Best Poetry. “We can relax and really discover our passions.”
“Like getting into college? Getting real work experience?” [offers the character Megan]
Who talks like that? The answer is no one.
Partly, I think the book suffered from uncertainty about how far into parody it wanted to descend. There were some priceless details; here’s one — the protagonist’s social-climbing mom is talking about a book club the higher-status moms hold — next to which I wrote, “This is almost a satire, and if it were it would be awesome”:
Mom leaned back, clutching a pillow to her chest. “I’ve been trying to swing an invitation to that book club for over a year. I read all the books just in case I get invited and people talk about previous selections.”
…But it wasn’t a satire; it gave us awesome shit like that but then also wanted us to take these characters seriously. I struggled with that.
However. MY BIG NOSE grew on me quite a bit as it went along. In part this is because it handled well some things — sexual violence, homosexuality* — that usually make an appearance in teen books only when they are The Point. Here, as in many teenagers’ actual lives, they are important parts of the pastiche of what our main character and her friends experience — and Salter takes them as seriously as they deserve — without being the dominant features of our hero’s life. This felt to me both convincing and refreshing.
The best part of this book, though, for me, was a so fully awesome scene that inspired the title of this post. It is a very extended, deeply hilarious depiction of what happens when our hero goes to yoga class while forced onto her mother’s cabbage soup diet. The gaseous results are reported to us in detail. In a book for girls! So rare!
It’s kind of like how masturbation is a staple of realistic-genre books for teen boys, but if I ask you about female characters masturbating, what will you say? That’s right, DEENIE. Which was published in 1973. Cheers to Salter for, thirty five years later, taking another little step forward in popular culture portraying girls as possessing bodily functions.
* By the way, one way that blogging has changed my book reading is that I am more accountable to my predictions about where a book is going (even when they’re pathetically off base). It was on page 101 of this book that I noted, “I think I had called [character] = gay before this, but now I am WRITING IT DOWN.” Sixty six pages later we get the scoop for real. I mention this because, now that I am in the habit of writing down my predictions, I’m wondering how many books I feel like “Oh, I saw that coming!” about, but only because I predicted like twenty different mutually exclusive plot developments, one of which actually occurred. Now we will be able to track this. Stay tuned.