LitStack Review: Biggie by Derek E. Sullivan

by Sharon Browning

Biggie  Biggie3
Derek E. Sullivan
Albert Whitman & Company
Release Date:  March 1, 2015
ISBN 978-0-8075-0727-8

Henry Abbott is 16 years old, and a 10th grader at Finch High School in the little town of Finch, Iowa, where he gets straight As.  He works four nights a week at Bob’s Food and Fuel.  He has a crush on Annabelle Rivers; probably has ever since they first were classmates, which was back in kindergarten (not that he’s ever told her how he feels).  He’s the son of a local baseball legend, and his step-father plays professional ball.

Nowadays, Henry stands 6′ 2″.  And he weighs “north of” 300 pounds.  He’s always been a big kid, and ever since 2nd grade, he’s had the nickname “Biggie”.

Biggie doesn’t mind the nickname.  He’s okay with being called fat; he is fat.  He prefers being fat.

How did I get this way?  Or a better question:  Why have I let myself grow to over three hundred pounds?  Simply put:  now, I’m invisible.  Funny, isn’t it?  The more I weigh, the less people ride me about it.  By living up to my nickname, I have accomplished an amazing feat.  I’m the only high school student in the world who doesn’t get made fun of on a daily basis.

Henry bolsters his invisibility by simply not engaging in anything.  He gets good grades, but rarely participates in class.  He always sits by himself at lunch, in classes, at events he has no choice but to attend.  He doesn’t make friends and shies away from talking to anyone, even with customers at work.  No small talk for Biggie.  He spends most of his time in his room studying or online.  Because he has gotten so large, coaches don’t try to recruit him anymore to participate in football or baseball, which is a huge step in disengaging in a town that is downright sports crazy.  He even managed to get out of phys-ed for a year, although that trickery fell through when he tried it the next year.

Then, one day, a game of PE enforced wiffle ball changed his life.

I spin the ball again and put on the fingertip pressure points.  The ball seems smaller now, softer.  At first, it felt hard, tight, with no bend or give.  Now, it fits perfectly in my fat fingers.  I toss another pitch and, once again, the ball drops.  Michelle doesn’t swing, but Coach Phillips calls the pitch a strike.  I smile.

Suddenly, Henry is given the hope that he may have something special, something that would make other people look up to him and accept him, that would get his step-father to stop being ashamed by him, that could get Annabelle to want to be his girlfriend.  Something that would make his mother proud.  Something that might make his real father to acknowledge that he exists.

What he doesn’t realize is that the lessons to be learned along the way to achieving his dream might be harder than he thought, not because of the physical toll they may take, but because he himself may not be the biggest obstacle in his way.  The biggest obstacle may be finding out that by opening himself up to the world, he must accept that his assumptions about how things work, who people are and how they see him, are wrong, and that life and the people in it aren’t going to stand still while he tries to figure it all out.  Or perhaps the hardest lesson will be that getting what he thinks he wants isn’t so satisfying after all.

Biggie is a low key, sweet, heartbreaking, modern coming of age story that feels more like a portal into a young man’s life than a literary dramatization of plucky youngsters pondering life’s great mysteries.  Although sport, specifically baseball, is at the heart of Henry’s potential transformation, this is not a Rudy-like triumph story, not a one-man Bad News Bears.  It’s richer than that.  It’s more real than that.  And in a very, very rewarding read, even if the final scene doesn’t have Biggie being carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates.  Because sometimes, winning the game isn’t everything.

But it’s a pretty big thing.  And Biggie is, indeed, a win.

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