Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Girl Giant by Kristen den Hartog

     Kristen den Hartog's newest novel tells the story of Ruth Brennan, a young girl with a rare growth disorder.  By the time she reaches adolescence, Ruth is already several feet taller than her peers, which makes finding and keeping friends a difficult task.  It also makes leading a normal life nearly impossible, especially during the mid 20th century - a time when girls were expected to be slight, delicate, and dainty.  Most people are either scared of her, or they feel sorry for her, and even though she is usually ignored, Ruth knows that she is impossibly noticeable.

     Ruth's abnormalities take a toll on her parents as well - two people who are afraid to face both the realities of their daughter's condition and their failing marriage.  But "the Giantess" has a strong intuition, and despite her looming size, people can't help but reveal their thoughts and intentions to her, whether or not they are aware of having done so.  Ruth's unique ability allows her to give readers a first person perspective of characters without a narrative voice.  And even though she may appear impenetrable, the knowledge she possesses can be overwhelming.  Ruth is a gifted child in an over-sized adult body, and her circumstances make the development of self-confidence and identity extremely difficult.

     Ruth's story is fascinating, thought-provoking and heartbreaking, but this novel felt a little slow at times.  While the story of James and Elspeth Brennan is also intriguing, it sometimes detracted from Ruth's magnetic presence as a character.  And even though she is the narrator, we are not often privy to Ruth's internal thoughts and analyses.  She is by no means flat or simple, I just wish den Hartog would have better reflected Ruth's larger-than-life story in the characters' internal and external dialogue.  Despite this flaw, The Girl Giant is still a unique and delicately-crafted story.  For a girl so young and inexperienced, Ruth possesses a great deal of wisdom, maturity, and insight.  But these characteristics are often suppressed so that she can better fit in with her peers.  Even so, they all seem to understand that there is something inherently different about Ruth Brennan, so we are presented with a portrait of a young girl stuck between worlds - desperate to be normal, but destined to be extraordinary.

The Girl Giant will be released on June 12, 2012.