Hey Hey! Today is a DOUBLE REVIEW! Or should I say Duology review? For the Virginia Shreves Series/Duology. I don’t really know what to call it since the first book was actually released like 15 years ago and the sequel is only just coming out but there are two books. One sequel. Duology, it is today.
This duology is written by Carolyn Mackler and comprises of the first novel: The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things (Yes, IKR, how amazing is this title – just you wait to read the sequel’s title-) and the second novel: The Universe is Expanding and So Am I (absolutely fabulous title).
Since I read them one after the other, it made sense to chuck the reviews of them together too. Firstly, thank you to the lovely ladies over at Bloomsbury Publishing for sending me the new edition of the first book and the ARC of the sequel coming this month in exchange for an honest review 😀
Secondly, let me tell you a little bit about my experience before I started reading it. I was hesitant. Like super hesitant, and that’s because I read a couple of reviews about it since I’ve had the first novel’s review copy with me for some time. Those reviews made me super hesitant because it mentioned trigger warnings such as self-hate, self-harm and all sorts of negative stuff to do with fat shaming and eating disorders. As hesitant as I was, even with those trigger warnings I gave it a go, and I think it’s good to keep it in mind that sometimes even if you’re a little scared to read into a topic you feel uncomfortable with, you should get a gold star for at least giving it a go. I personally really dislike self-hate internal dialogue, I hate it. It’s one of my major reasons Eleanor & Park was the biggest disappointment for me. But anyway, let’s get onto the review! Here is the blurb about the book so you can get a better understanding of what I’ll be talking about.
The Earth, My Butt & Other Big Round Things
An overweight teen is sure that she’s the weakest link in her high-powered family – until her handsome, athletic, star-student brother has a shocking fall from grace.
Fifteen-year-old Virginia Shreves has a larger-than-average body and a plus-size inferiority complex. She lives on the Web, snarfs junk food, and follows the “Fat Girl Code of Conduct.” Her stuttering best friend has just moved to Walla Walla (of all places). Her new companion, Froggy Welsh the Fourth (real name), has just succeeded in getting his hand up her shirt, and she lives in fear that he’ll look underneath. Then there are the other Shreves; Mom, the successful psychologist and exercise fiend; Dad, a top executive who ogles thin women on TV; and older siblings Anais and rugby god Byron, both of them slim and brilliant. Delete Virginia, and the Shreves would be a picture-perfect family. Or so she’s convinced. And then a shocking phone call changes everything.
With irreverent humor, insight, and surprising gravity, Carolyn Mackler creates an endearingly blunt heroine whose story will speak to every teen who struggles with family expectations – and serve as a welcome reminder that the most impressive achievement is to be true to yourself.
Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)
I’ll be very honest here, I was extremely right to be hesitant about this book. It, unfortunately, contained all of them trigger warnings and more and for the first half, I seriously considered putting it down. It was so uncomfortable and so obviously unhealthy the way Virginia thought of herself and what she put her body through. However, I don’t totally blame her in that her family was horrible and were so fat shaming it was ridiculous to the point where I was cheering for the goddamn doctor in the book!
As lovely as it was to have a protagonist who loves to read and write and make lists (my fav), what she was writing about was a ‘Fat Girl Code of Conduct’. A list of things she had to abide by to hide her low self-esteem for her body. It made me really uncomfortable and I just wanted to wrap her in a hug and tell her how beautiful she is. Her mental state also changes so rapidly and dramatically. I personally didn’t relate to that experience in mental illness but as I always say, mental illness is subjective.
I won’t spoil but when the ‘horrible thing’ her brother does that is super scandalous comes about (horrible is an understatement though), the story began the change for the better. As a whole, this book was exploring and detailing how Virginia started to look at herself, her behaviour and other’s behaviour when she sees that her brother and her family was never as perfect as she thought. Her grief for her brother’s actions seemed to slowly change her perspective of what was bad. Her weight vs. his scandal. Anyone would rather the former. This sense of change and realisation also seemed like it was helped by the absence of her best friend. It reminded me of Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson because Virginia learnt how to be more independent and make new friends rather than stick to the one she’s always been with. Being in your own little shell and with your initial views and perspectives can seriously set you back.
Although I think towards the end, her self-esteem still wasn’t super healthy, she grew as a person to begin gaining more confidence in herself and her body which neither should need to conform to a certain type. The second, Virginia started standing up for herself more and realising that being who is she is perfectly duckin fine, this book definitely grew on me. I was happy to say that I was excited to read the sequel, and not only for its delicious cover.
The Universe is Expanding and So Am I
Six months ago, Virginia decided to ignore the ‘Fat Girl Code of Conduct’ she used to live by and make her relationship with Froggy Welsh the Fourth official. But now things are getting complicated. She’s not sure she still likes Froggy, her mum has betrayed her to the meanest girl in school, and her brother Byron – she’s not she’ll ever know how to feel about him. And then she meets Sebastian. He funny, sweet and he doesn’t want to talk about family, and Virginia’s fine with that. But then a terrible secret comes out that could ruin everything.
Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)
I won’t say as much on this novel cause obviously *spoilers* but firstly, I am SO HAPPY Carolyn wrote it. I feel like this sequel was needed 15 years ago. I liked it WAYYYYY more than the first book and I feel like this sequel just finished the whole story and character development arc for these characters.
In this novel, it’s been a little while since the first book and while Virginia is embracing and becoming more confident, she’s battling her internal insecurities which I find so realistic because we ALL have them no matter how confident we express ourselves to be. As a new love interest gets in the picture and more sinister scandals from the past arise, this book really shows Virginia’s thinking and processes much better. I think the writing was really engaging and Carolyn improved so much from the first book. While some might see it was a little predictable (um. excuse me. aren’t most contemporaries predictable romance stories anyway?), I thought this story was enjoyable. I liked seeing Virginia become more confident in herself, her choices and the possibilities for herself. Also, I don’t know if it’s just because I recently got my driver’s license but it was again so nice to meet a character that’s nervous at driving and is still getting experience in driving. I completely relate to that and I think most teens learning to drive will too.
Overall, the writing was great, the characters turned out much better and were developed really well. Also, Carolyn did an awesome job at updating the first book and continuing with this book. I can’t imagine what else Virginia did 15 years ago when in this updated version she’s watching Netflix. Granted, I was 5 years old when this came out, maybe she listened to mixtapes? Twas’ a pretty good read either way.
Have you read either of these books? What did you think?
Until next time,