Disclosure: The author provided me with a free copy of the ebook.
“Book Smarts and Tender Hearts” is a lovely young adult coming-of-age novel featuring a fat main character, self-published by the fat and fabulous Shelley Pearson.
Spoilers ahead; you’ve been warned.
Main character Hannah is a teenage lesbian secretly (in her mind at least) infatuated with her best friend, Liz. The pillars of the story are Hannah’s queerness, fatness, friendships, and family.
Hannah journeys from closeted to out in the story, helped along the way by a zine publisher turned pen pal turned friend and by joining a GLBT Rainbow Youth Club. It’s a tremendously affirming story. I didn’t come to my queerness until my 20’s, and I feel like I’m still growing into it. I wish I’d had a story like this as a teenager, and I’m so glad this is out there for teenagers now!
Hannah coming to a new understanding of her fatness is an important part of her journey. Along the way, there are some scenes that for fat female readers may be painfully relatable. Early on, Hannah goes shopping with Liz at thrift stores. Needless to say, there’s not a large selection of plus-size clothing. In her internal monologue, Hannah says, “Sometimes I feel like things that are for other girls just aren’t for me.” That line hit hard. Later, when Hannah meets a fat character who doesn’t hide her fatness, wears tight-fitting clothing, and is hot, Hannah thinks, “I would think that maybe my purpose in life was to always be the fattest person, so no one else had to be…. But this girl is fatter than me.” Heather, the hot fat girl, is Hannah’s introduction to the idea that her fatness doesn’t mean she is unattractive or undesirable, and this is enough light to begin a transformation. Later, after a spot of harassment, followed by a very familiar “well-meaning” insult, Hannah, for the first time, stands up for herself and tells off the “well-meaning” lady. Then Hannah’s pen pal lays out some body positivity: “I’m so sorry that people are giving you shit about your body. You’re right – it’s completely no one’s business but your own. Your body = your business, all the way.”
Hannah’s friendships are huge in the story, but I don’t want to give any more spoilers related to them. Instead, I want to acknowledge the fourth pillar, family. The story presents the complexities of family beautifully. In fact, it begins right after Hannah’s grandmother, living with Alzheimer’s, has been moved into assisted living. In this way, the author wonderfully weaves a tale of Gran’s aging in with Hannah’s coming of age tale. It’s heartbreaking and poignant, and I fully admit that I cried more than once.
Check out a preview of the book here on Amazon, where the Kindle edition is available for $2.99 and $12.99 in print.