(There may be some spoilers in my description of the plot, which is pretty complex, though I tried to keep to the events described on the book jacket. If you want to avoid these, please scroll down.)
The book opens with Truly Plaice standing at the grave of a Dr. Robert Morgan. There's some animosity between them, and you soon learn there have been several Dr. Robert Morgans in Aberdeen since the first deserted the Confederate Army during the Civil War, made his way to New York, and married Tabitha, the area's "witch" or herbal healer. She supposedly left her "shadow book" with her healing recipes hidden in the Morgan home, but no one had found it and no one knew whether it really existed.
From this graveyard scene, we are transported back in time to the early 1950s and the start of Truly's story. Her mother dies giving birth to the larger-than-life Truly, who quickly outgrows her older sister's hand-me-downs and keeps growing, leaving their grief-stricken father unsure how to feed or clothe her. Truly suffers from a form of gigantism, a condition out of her control, but she is shunned by pretty much everyone in Aberdeen. When her father dies, her beautiful, perfect sister Serena Jane goes to live with the Reverend Pickerton and his wife, and Truly goes to the rundown Dyerson farm. The Dyersons are good people, but they are very poor, and while Truly doesn't have the nicest clothes or a lot to eat, she is content. Truly bonds with the daughter, Amelia Dyerson, who is known for having trouble with words, and Marcus Thompson, the smartest and smallest boy in their class who obviously is fond of Truly. Truly and Serena Jane drift apart, and ultimately Truly's life is forever changed because of Tabitha's "shadow book."
(End of possible spoilers)
Baker's writing style pulled me in from the first page, and it seemed so Southern to me, along with the characters and the setting, that I had to keep reminding myself it took place in New York. Telling the story from Truly's point of view, Baker does a great job getting into the mind of this complex character. Here's one of my favorite passages:
"She looks like she eats plenty to me," Cally gibed, but Estelle quieter her with a frown.I really felt for Truly, and while I couldn't agree with many of her actions during the course of the story, I could see why she did what she did. Even the unlikeable characters, like Bob-Bob and the mean teacher Miss Sparrow, were interesting and gave a fullness to the story. Baker covers a whole range of themes, from healing to the definition of beauty, but the storyline that touched me the most was Marcus and Truly's relationship. It's really hard to put my thoughts about this wonderful book into words. Baker covered a lot of ground, and it's hard to believe The Little Giant of Aberdeen County is her first novel. You'll just have to snag a copy and find out for yourself.
"It's not her fault she's built like a Sherman tank. Besides, maybe in her situation it's better. Look at Serena Jane. Beauty only landed her in a rat's nest of trouble."
The three women fell silent then, staring into their empty plates and ruminating on the paradoxical connection between opportunity and loveliness that Serena Jane and I presented. Without beauty, I knew, life's possibilities might pass me up, but too much loveliness was clearly a liability. It was like a train wreck, pulling in trouble. So in the end, maybe it really was me who was better off, I thought. I was ugly--no one was going to dispute that--but I was also so big that nothing in life was going to slide past me. And if it did, then maybe I was smart enough to let it keep going. (page 123 in the ARC--might differ from the published book)
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County also was reviewed by:
Maw Books Blog
The Book Lady's Blog
she reads and reads
A Bookworm's World
Bibliophile By the Sea
Peeking Between the Pages
If you've also reviewed it, let me know in the comments, and I'll add your link!
Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County from Hachette for review purposes.