Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallan

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Trigger Warnings: fatphobia, harmful comments about autism (by characters about the mc), sexism, mention of assault, harassment, alcoholism and alcohol mention, drugs mention and addition mention,

Genre: Adult, contemporary fiction

Publication date: (US), December 1st, 2020, (UK) February 20th, 2020

Publisher: Algonquin Books (US)

Synopsis (taken from Goodreads)

Routine makes Majella’s world small but change is about to make it a whole lot bigger.

*Stuff Majella knows*
-God doesn’t punish men with baldness for wearing ladies’ knickers
-Banana-flavoured condoms taste the same as nutrition shakes
-Not everyone gets a volley of gunshots over their grave as they are being lowered into the ground

*Stuff Majella doesn’t know*
-That she is autistic
-Why her ma drinks
-Where her da is

Other people find Majella odd. She keeps herself to herself, she doesn’t like gossip and she isn’t interested in knowing her neighbours’ business. But suddenly everyone in the small town in Northern Ireland where she grew up wants to know all about hers.

Since her da disappeared during the Troubles, Majella has tried to live a quiet life with her alcoholic mother. She works in the local chip shop (Monday-Saturday, Sunday off), wears the same clothes every day (overalls, too small), has the same dinner each night (fish and chips, nuked in the microwave) and binge watches Dallas (the best show ever aired on TV) from the safety of her single bed. She has no friends and no boyfriend and Majella thinks things are better that way.

But Majella’s safe and predictable existence is shattered when her grandmother dies and as much as she wants things to go back to normal, Majella comes to realise that maybe there is more to life. And it might just be that from tragedy comes Majella’s one chance at escape.

Author Bio: Michelle Gallen was born in County Tyrone in the mid 1970s and grew up during the Troubles a few miles from the border between what she was told was the “‘Free” State and the “United” Kingdom. She studied English literature at Trinity College Dublin and won several prestigious prizes as a young writer. Following a devastating brain injury in her midtwenties, she co-founded three award-winning companies and won international recognition for digital innovation. She now lives in Dublin with her husband and kids.

Review:

Big Girl Small Town is a slice of life novel about Majella who lives in a fictional town. She’s autistic or at least on the spectrum, but undiagnosed so to the entire town she’s the strange daughter of an alcoholic mother and father who disappeared during The Troubles.

This is one of those books where nothing really happens because it isn’t really about anything specific except for the character around whom it revolves. You get a glimpse into one week of Majella’s life, the people with whom she interacts, and the way she feels about her life. It’s one of those stare through a window as you walk by to figure out what’s going on inside type of books which are always really endearing.

I love the crass humour and description throughout the book. It ties in really well with the very aggressively Irish dialogue. Takes a moment to sort through the colloquialism but once you catch the flow of speech it’s supremely enjoyable. I had the time of my life because my brain is wired to imitate accents I come across. The fact that I’m so easily able to hear the entire town talk in my head is a testament to the way Michelle Gallen is able to weave an incredibly realistic setting and characters.

Majella has a really cut and dry way of looking at the world and as is typical with girls and AFAB people, she’s learnt to mask her neurodivergent mannerisms to not stick out like a sore thumb, or at least not more so than she already does. Here’s a girl who has had to push and prod herself to adjust into a town that really doesn’t care to see her past her family history, using her as the butt of a joke, and running with the rumors of how her grandmother passed. It’s painfully realistic of a small town with nothing better to do than gossip and authentic to the experiences of so many women and AFAB people who have to fit a certain mould of femininity from a young age.

Her grandmother’s death and the investigation attached to it throw her back into the pile of town gossip which really throws her routine for a loop as more people try to talk to her and also talk about her. The book is a slow evolution of Majella as she readjusts to this weird new normal. The story is limited to a week long timeline with more or less hourly installments that are tied to her list of things she likes and dislikes (heavily skewed towards the dislikes). Despite this story spanning just a week, you see her transform in a really major. It’s not specifically for better or for worse but just to address how massive life events tend to shape someone’s identity in a really short amount of time.

You’ve got multiples plots of sort unfolding themselves. The aftermath of The Troubles are still rolling out in a personal way for Majella and in a sociopolitical way for the town itself, Majella’s grandmother’s passing and the investigation brings up new information through the gossip overheard, and Majella herself goes through her own timeline of transformation. While the book is simple in its narrative, these three ~plots~ (I really don’t know what else to call them there’s another word but I CANNOT find it rip) layer themselves really well to tell a dynamic story within the span of a week.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and I hope y’all do too!

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