THUMBELINA by Andrea Koenig


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Somewhat muted but eventually affecting debut narrated by its 14-year-old protagonist, a pregnant orphan too stubborn to abort her baby or to follow rules laid down by grownups. Thumbelina Skyler (indeed named for “the little girl in the fairy tale”) is a six-foot misfit whose mother Angelica, dumped by her faithless lover Lester, drives her car into a duck pond one day and promptly drowns. This leaves her daughter in the care of single (foster) mother Mrs. Leffer, and under the wing of fellow orphan Myrna, a street-smart teenager who’s also pregnant and with whom Thumbelina embarks on a series of disreputable adventures, including brief tenures as strippers and varied encounters with undependable older men (such as Myrna’s 30ish “boyfriend” Stan), climaxing with our heroine’s realization that she has probably acquired, along with a baby-to-be, “the queer disease” (Lester, it turns out, had preferred his old army buddy Marcus to Angelica ). The story begins pokily, and its impact is lessened by some overfamiliar dramatizations of teenage angst and paranoia (it takes a long time for the bespectacled, gawky Thumbelina to believe she’s attractive). But there are strong points: memories of good and bad times with beautiful, impulsive Angelica are honest and touching, as is Thumbelina’s obvious repression of facts surrounding her own pregnancy and her mother’s death. And in the last hundred pages, the novel takes off: Thumbelina’s scenes with a doctor who was her former softball coach are dazzling blends of comedy and pathos, and several interviews with childless couples seeking to adopt her baby are almost as good. The best thing here, though, is the narrator’s brisk, sardonic, grimly funny voice (“I am not sure a guy with three kids and his stomach over the top of his jeans can really love a girl who hasn’t even started ninth grade,” etc.). A nice debut that takes its time getting going, but it does win you over.

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-85006-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1998