Larger Than Life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall
Publisher: Tyndale House
Date: November 1, 2016
Reviewed by: Lori Twichell
Fiction Addict Scorecard: B
“This isn’t about me. This story, I mean. So already you got a reason to hang it up. At least that’s what Mrs. Smith, our English teacher, says.”
Laney Grafton is a little girl with a big voice. She’s in elementary school and even though you would think that’s a pretty easy time in life, for Laney, it’s really not. She gets teased a lot at school and when she goes home, she has to navigate a really tough home life. So when Lara Phelps shows up at school, Laney’s pretty happy about it. Not because she’ll have a new friend, but maybe there’s a chance the bullies in school will look at Lara instead of her. It’s not the nicest of attitudes and Laney is aware of that. But at this point in her life, it’s every man – or girl – for herself.
Lara, you see, is large. She’s a really big girl. Not just overweight. Big. Even the teachers and adults at the school are keenly aware of Lara’s size. (A lot of things in this book made me cringe – and some of the things said by teachers and adults scattered throughout were a big part of that. But I also realize it’s probably more true than not.) The thing is, Lara realizes she’s big and there’s no doubt she’s heard all the insults and seen all the nastiness before. But even at this tender young elementary school age, Lara is different. Not in her size, but her attitude. She decides she’s going to meet all of the awful with kindness, grace, and gentleness. Even as an adult, I don’t think I could pull this off as well as Lara does.
This book is a fast and easy read, but not necessarily easy to handle. The emotional battlegrounds throughout the book make it a powerful statement on society’s norms, what’s acceptable, and bullying. Having seen my daughter go through an intense round of bullying that resulted in our family deciding to homeschool, the bullying was hard to read. It happens – more often than people realize. And often, the schools don’t know how to deal with it.
Larger Than Life Lara gives a powerful understanding of what happens in a kid’s mind when they experience bullying, and when they see it happening to others. As in life, there’s not a nice, neat bow wrapped around the story at the end. It’s messy and ugly, but it resonates.
Laney’s telling of the story was entertaining, clever, and witty. I really enjoyed her voice and would love to hear more from Laney in the future!
Larger Than Life Lara is an excellent book for teachers, parents, or youth leaders. I even had all three of my kids read it (17, 14 and 12) and they enjoyed it – if you can say that. We had a good long talk afterwards about school and bullying. It was a good discussion and I’m thankful for that door being opened by Larger Than Life Lara.