Truly Plaice is a big girl. So big, in fact, that her poor mother dies in childbirth and her father blames his daughter, and the doctor, for her death. Unequipped to raise Truly and her sister Serena Jane on his own, they are neglected and pushed off onto other people while dad grapples with his own despair.
After their father dies, the girls are separated. Serena Jane, the epitome of feminine beauty and Truly’s polar opposite, is raised by the small town’s preacher and his wife as their pretty pretty princess. Truly packs up and heads straight from the cemetery to the home of a poor family with a near-mute daughter and spends her childhood in overalls tending for horses and working on the farm. The girls see each other weekly and go to the same school but have less and less in common.
Truly grows, and doesn’t stop growing, due to a medical abnormality. She sees a doctor only once during her childhood- the doctor is hated by her father, and after his death there is no money for doctors. We don’t learn much about Truly’s condition, in fact the subject is brought up early on (pg. 58) and then basically dropped until the end of the book.
Physically, Truly is hard to overlook. She stands out in her tiny community due to her size and is tormented not only by mean kids but by adults too. Even her teacher in the one room schoolhouse she attends from kindergarten through graduation can’t hide her feelings of revulsion. Truly can barely squeeze her thighs under the school desk and her heft is cause for embarrassment time and time again.
Truly’s bulk becomes a barrier in her relationship with others. Her damaged self esteem prevents her from recognizing when people really care about her. Marcus, an undersized boy at school, has always been kind to her and has feelings for her but she doesn’t take him seriously.
Serena’s beauty turns out to be a blessing and a curse. She marries the future Dr. Robert Morgan after high school and has a son, but dreams of a larger existence and soon leaves everything behind. Truly steps in to care for Serena’s son and husband and becomes an object of curiousity for the doctor. Family secrets are discovered in the doctor’s home and Truly finds a way to change her fate and that of of the people around her. There is a dark side to this book but it isn’t explored in great detail.
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County is a good read. There’s a lot to like about this book with its unique, complex characters and a bit of magical realism. I didn’t get my hoped-for ending in it’s entirety, but what I did get was satisfying. If everything had come together I might have stated it was all wrapped up too perfectly, so I’m ok with a few loose ends. It’s a well written debut novel by a talented new writer, and I’d highly recommend it.