cover image Big Girl

Big Girl

Mecca Jamilah Sullivan. Liveright, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-1-324-09141-7

Sullivan (the collection Blue Talk and Love) charms in her stunning debut novel about a Black girl’s coming-of-age. While growing up in gentrifying Harlem during the 1980s and ’90s, Malaya Clondon is irrevocably impacted by other people’s perceptions and judgments of her weight. At eight, her mother, Nyela forces her to attend Nyela’s Weight Watchers meetings, and she endures cruel remarks from classmates at her predominantly white school. When she’s 16, Nyela and Malaya’s father, Percy, fight over the prospect of Malaya undergoing a gastric bypass. Throughout, Sullivan offers a nuanced portrayal of Malaya’s difficulties in navigating a world in which other people are unable to see her beyond her size, even after a terrible loss shakes Malaya’s world and reorients her family. All of Sullivan’s characters—even the cruel ones—brim with humanity, and the author shines when conveying the details of Malaya’s comforts, such as Biggie Smalls lyrics, the portraits she paints in her room, the colors she braids into her hair, and the sweet-smelling dulce de coco candies she eats with a classmate with whom she shares a close and sexually charged friendship. This is a treasure. Agent: Janet Silver, Aevitas Creative Management. (July)