The Little Giant of Aberdeen County is the story of Truly - a girl grown massive due to a pituitary problem. Reviled and brought up in poverty, Truly finds her calling and a future that none expected.
>> POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel discusses the themes of rape and assisted suicide.
Living in a small town in New England (begining in the 1950s), Truly Plaice has been treated like a freak show attraction all her life. Due to a faulty pituitary gland, Truly has spent her life battling gigantism.
"Well," Bob Morgan said, "you may be ugly as sin and heavy as an ox, but I guess your mama loved you truly." Wide-eyed, I suckled my fist and took in the doctor's words with a look of gravity, as if i knew that for the next three decades, it would be the only direct reference I would have to the word 'love'.
The townspeople continue to throw around the rumor that her size is what killed Truly's mother just moments after Truly's birth, never mind that it was medically confirmed that her mother had been fighting breast cancer prior to giving birth.
To make matters even more difficult on Truly, her sister, Serena Jane, is the epitome of physical perfection right from childhood -- perfect curls, stunning face, lovely manners -- and grows up to be the town's beloved beauty queen. After the death of their father, the sisters are split up and taken in by different families in town. While Serena Jane is set up in a cushy home in town with access to all the finer things of life, Truly is forced to scrimp and eek out a meager existence on the farm of failing horse rancher August Dyerson (Dyerson says of his horses, "They're winners in their own way, the math's just a little different, that's all"). All across town and in school, Serena Jane is fawned over while Truly's 1st day of school left her with the memory of her TEACHER calling her a giant in front of the class ... and the environment not really improving from then on.
For Amelia, (Truly's mostly mute best friend), words were something to use sparingly. They were like bleach or vinegar. A tiny amount could clean up almost anything, but dump out more than that, and you could have one ungodly mess on your hands.
Once Serena Jane is of age, she also becomes the object of desire for Robert Morgan IV, Truly's childhood bully but now grown and serving as the town doctor. He's not really all that much nicer to Truly but tolerates her as a way to get close to Serena Jane. By the time these three characters have reached adulthood, Truly has developed quite a thick skin against tormentors so she's relatively nonplussed by Robert's still somewhat salty nature. She's just trying to live her life the best she knows how.
I didn't know how to explain Robert Morgan's temper to Marcus. It wasn't the blustery, volatile kind that blew itself up like a thunderstorm, but more sinister and steady, the north wind trailing its ribbons of frost and ice. Once provoked, his rage might linger for days, chilling everything around him, dropping temperatures until it hurt to breathe. I'd seen him go after the patients who were late with payments, and he wasn't kidding. The north wind always meant business.
After a few years, Serena Jane starts to feel stifled in her life and decides to bail on everything, just disappearing one day. She basically leaves it all on Truly to clean up the mess. But sisterly love drives Truly to drop everything and do just what her sister asks... a decision that causes Truly to unfairly end up in a similarly trapped existence to the one her sister fled from. Though it's not referenced directly, we even see evidence of Truly showing evidence of struggling with depression and binge eating disorder.
One thing that helps though is Truly developing an interest in medicinal herbalogy after discovering the long lost work of Tabitha Dyerson (a witch that lived in town centuries before and an ancestor of Truly's adopted guardian, August Dyerson. Tabitha was married to the current Dr Morgan's ancestor, Robert Morgan I -- talk about a small town!). Truly's studies lead her to become a sort of secret witch doctor in town, a person people seek out in the dark when they have an issue they don't want Dr. Morgan knowing about. It also draws her into some morally questionable territory, dipping her metaphorical toe in the murky rights and wrongs of performing assisted suicides. Her work with these plants will challenge friendships and dangerously tread the line between legal & just ... and not.
For the most part, Truly's heart is in the right place, I'd say. Though the incident with the neighbor's cat had me ready to give up on her... but I hung in there to see where this all went. But the cat though... why, Truly?
I ended up giving this novel a higher rating simply for entertainment value. I never found myself bored with the story, and for me that's a rare feat in reading these days. As far as the actual writing though... I really do enjoy Baker's style but structurally the plot had some serious potholes throughout that bothered me. Such as:
* I'm not sure what to think about the relationship between Marcus and Truly... sometimes it was sweet, sometimes it felt underdeveloped, other times I was asking why it was even there?! And Marcus going to Vietnam and filling his letters home with words like "The fellows here" and talking about his "torch" (flashlight)... but these characters were from NEW England, not the Queen's England.. so why was he writing in the style of a WW1 British soldier?
* While incorporating the story of the witch Tabitha and Truly taking up Tabitha's medicinal work, I don't feel like this element of the plot was explored enough. It's hardly mentioned at all until the last 100 pages or so of the novel.
* What is the real story with Bobbie? Is he gay? Trans? Pre trans? Gender fluid? What is his story? Again, not all that well developed and feels (to me) like it was mostly just roughly stuck in there to pander to LGBTQ+ market ... if you're gonna have it in there, do it right, otherwise it's more of a disservice than anything!
* There are moments that annoyed me where Truly was describing things done or said by other characters that she wouldn't have been actually present for, she's spouting off these thoughts or dialogue as fact when in reality Truly would be across town / down the street / etc. from where it was occurring, so she wouldn't be privy to the knowledge she was presenting the reader.
Faults aside, I found this to be a truly (ha! see what I did there :-P) fun story with some really cool plot elements and the potential to be even more than what we actually got here. As I said though, I did really enjoy Baker's writing style and would be interested to check out her future offerings.