Despite their differences, three teens become friends.
Paul’s a short guy. By the time he reaches high school, he’s well aware that his stature puts him in the crosshairs of bullies. When Paul, who is white, meets the Hawaiian newcomer, Kamakanamakamaemaikalani Pohaku—or, Big—a 300-plus-pound, cheerful transfer student, and overcomes his fear of Lily Small, a black Kenyan girl adopted by white parents whose height and race make her stand out in their homogeneous school, he discovers true friendship. An avid rock climber, Paul’s hobby increases his confidence, which becomes important when crises strike. Unfortunately, the interest the book builds through showing a diversity of experiences is negated by two-dimensional, stereotypical characterizations. Though Paul develops a crush on her, descriptions of Lily repeatedly evoke the angry, violent, black woman trope (“It wasn’t hard to imagine her breaking my neck with those arms”; “I had to remind myself she was a vicious predator”) as well as culturally inaccurate depictions of the Maasai. Big’s descriptions recall condescending images of ever smiling plus-sized people and happy-go-lucky Polynesians (“He lumbered down the hall with a big, friendly smile on his face that made me think he was imagining himself on a beach, holding a drink with an umbrella”). A woman with mental illness is portrayed as hysterical and irrational.
While attempting to address serious issues, the book fails to reflect real-life complexities or nuances, instead mirroring troubling stereotypes. (Fiction. 14-18)