Susan Stinson, Fat Girl Dances with Rocks (Spinsters Ink, 1994)
I spent the last eleven days of 2012 and the first eleven days of 2013 first in the hospital, then in a rehab center, fighting a nasty-though-not-life-threatening case of cellulitis. When you are not a fan of cable, and watching Netflix on a laptop screen gives you fits (when we had a 21” TV, I watched movies on my 23” computer monitor instead), you get time to read a lot of books that have been on your TBR stack forever. And so I finally found myself getting round to Fat Girl Dances with Rocks, which I think had been sitting on my shelf for something like a decade at that point. I’m not sure it’s anything new, anything pushing the envelope, but that’s not always necessary; it’s a very nicely done coming of age tale about a teenaged girl who goes looking for something—she’s not entirely sure what—and ends up finding herself.
Plot: Char is a teenager in the godawful seventies. (I was a pre-teen in the godawful seventies. Trust me, they were godawful, and Susan Stinson gets it in a way that I’ve seen others who write books set in this era miss entirely.) Her life isn’t traumatic, by any means, but it’s pretty darn boring, and she has vague feelings of not fitting in with anything or anyone around her save her best friend—who ends up moving away for the summer with her family right after planting the first big, deep, passionate kiss on Char’s lips that she’s ever experienced. Well, that complicates things—but it also sets Char on the path to figuring out who she is. Not necessarily “I’m a lesbian”, although obviously her sexual identity plays a big part in it, as it does with most teens. But just as important is Char’s summer job at a nursing home, which exposes her to many different people with whom she finds herself experiencing varying levels of bonding, which is an odd enough thing for an introvert, but it teaches Char about balance—something she desperately needs to learn.
Man, there is so much to like here. I would say that all of the book’s sins are of omission rather than commission; Stinson is great at coming up with these fantastic minor characters, giving us just enough to get us interested, and then kind of letting go in order to focus on the novel’s major relationships. (Interestingly, you’re going to be hearing this same complaint in another review below, for another fine YA novel, My Favorite Band Does Not Exist.) You’ve gotta give Stinson points for her character creation, but the benchmark of minor characters (and resolving, often messily, their storylines) is Stephen King, specifically in ‘Salem’s Lot, and that level of storytelling is missing here. I rush to add that this is a minor complaint, as those main relationships on which Stinson is focusing are satisfying indeed, and I am assuming she was working within the publisher’s strictures as regards the length of this novel, which is quite short (less than one hundred eighty pages in the trade paperback edition I read); as far as I’m concerned, it could have easily gone twice its length without ever getting boring, with Stinson just exploring the wonderful, wonderful characters in the nursing home. But what we got is quite good. I adored Char as much as I quailed at the setting, remembering it all too well from my own younger days. This is good stuff indeed—obviously recommended for the GLBT crowd, especially younger readers in same, but as far as I’m concerned, you don’t need to identify sexually with Char to get a great deal out of the appreciation for beauty that she develops in this novel. *** ½