PAUL, BIG, AND SMALL, by David Glen Robb, Shadow Mountain, Oct. 1, 2019, Hardcover, $17.99 (young adult)
A few days ago, I learned of a 15-year-old who had just tried to take their life for a second time. The teen has been bullied since the age of 6. False assumptions have and continue to be made because of skin color. When the teen’s family left the area’s prevailing religion, the presiding religious leader encouraged other church members to “shun the family into coming back.” And now that the teen has come out as gay, their well-meaning, but uneducated friends, are telling the teen that a return to that faith with “fix” them.
I heard this story — from someone well-versed in the details — the day after finishing David Glenn Robb’s Paul, Big, and Small. Though the novel is different from the story above, the themes of bullying and deep emotional pain are the same.
Paul, Big, and Small tells the story of three unexpected friends.
Paul Adams is short. Like under 5 feet short. Everyone, including himself, underestimates him because of his size. For Paul, high school is about staying hidden and surviving.
Lily Small is tall. She’s the tallest girl in the school, and she once punched Paul in the face.
Kamakanamakamaemaikalani Pohaku aka Big lives up to his name. Next to him, Paul looks almost comical. But this dude from Hawaii has a way of lighting up the world, and he want Paul in his circle.
When Paul, Big, and Lily are assigned to the same group project in language arts class, they form an unlikely friendship. And it’s a friendship that may just keep Paul safe from the bullies that rule the school.
There’s a lot more to the plot of Paul, Big, and Small, but it’s worth having it unfold in front of your eyes. I will say, however, that this book, in conjunction with the story above, has stuck with me since I read it. It has prompted conversations with my husband and brainstorming sessions on how we can prepare our 5-year-old for the transformative years to come.
Paul, Big and Small packs an emotional punch. Robb has done an excellent job exploring the nuances of all his characters — including the minor supporting ones. Reading the novel becomes an immersive experience that is filled with a lot of pain, but also joy.
Rock climbing plays a key role throughout the novel and serves as a physical and metaphorical release as the story unfolds. Kudos go to Robb for explaining the sport well enough that a complete novice like myself could not only understand it, but appreciate it as well.
Paul, Big, and Small is an excellent YA read that deserves your time and reflection.
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