Emily Daly is 17-years-old and a bright, stylish and very cool young woman. She is also officially a ‘romance-free zone’ and has reached the inescapably grim conclusion that this is because she is fat (an adjective the author embraces). No Big Deal by Bethany Rutter charts Emily’s last year at school before uni beckons. A spirited and sometimes fierce call for self-acceptance, I’m intending to hand out copies to every teenager I know.
Unusually perhaps for a teenager, Emily is generally comfortable in her own skin. She has no time for weight-loss groups and ‘bad dieting energy,’ but it seems that the world takes a different view. The running commentary to Emily’s life includes insults from strangers, random comments about her ‘clinging’ clothes, and her own mum tricking her into attending a weight-loss programme.
At least she has the plus-size support of her dear friend, Camila, the only other fat girl in their school year. Until that is, Camila comes back from an extended family holiday, several dress sizes smaller, and instantly bags herself a boyfriend.
‘ I feel a little cloud of loneliness settle around me.’
Emily sees the newly trim Camila as living proof that she’ll need to lose weight if she wants to get a guy. Self-doubt rears its unwelcome head.
No Big Deal really captures the potency of teenhood for me. Emily’s voice is so authentic, her zest for clothes and music, the intensity of her friendships and crushes. It’s the debut novel of Bethany Rutter, a journalist who often writes about body politics, and I was particularly struck by her incisive comments on adolescence as viewed through the plus-size prism. Very thought-provoking indeed, and also refreshingly unpredictable. The story doesn’t go where you think it will and Emily will make choices you don’t expect. A genuinely original and empowering read.
No Big Deal by Bethany Rutter is published by MacMillan’s Children’s Books, 320 pages.