Monday, April 3, 2017
SHORT by Holly Goldberg Sloan is about a middle school student (who is short for her age), discovering the confidence to embrace who she is during her stint as a munchkin in a summer production of The Wizard of Oz.
How is it structured?
SHORT is written in first person, narrated by Julia Marks, a middle school student who is short for her age. The narrative is pretty straightforward, beginning at the start of summer as Julia and her younger brother Randy audition for and prepare for a local university production of The Wizard of Oz, and ending at the close of the production near the end of summer.
The narrative wanders quite often, as Julia veers off topic rather easily. One situation will lead her to go off on multiple tangent thoughts causing her to ramble on and on. Julia is also still mourning the loss of her pet dog (who died prior to the opening of this novel), and many situations cause her to reminisce about him.
SHORT clocks in at just around 300 pages.
What did I like?
Julia is an endearing protagonist. Her voice is somewhat emotionless, but witty at the same time. There are a lot of clever one-liners in this book. She plays dumb in many situations but understands more about people and relationships than she gives herself credit for. For the most part, she read like a realistic twelve-year old to me.
I also really enjoyed the quirky supporting characters. There is subtle depth to each one of them, from Julia's brother, to her parents, to the adults she meets and interacts with during the production. Julia learns a lot from paying attention to the adult mentors in her life, like Shawn Barr, the director; Olive, the dwarf actress; and Mrs. Chang, her elderly neighbor turned costume designer.
I also thought the setting was great. The behind-the-scenes theater preparation was very descriptive and authentic. This is probably a testament to Goldberg's experience in theater and film. There is no detail left out as the group rehearses for the production and readers learn a lot about the management and hard work that is involved in putting on a play/musical.
What did I dislike?
While I found plenty of witty humor in Julia's rambling narrative, at times, I great annoyed with her. Sometimes she would go off on tangents for no reason other than to go off on a tangent. Didn't always feel genuine.
She's also a bit of a loner. She's rather up front about alienating herself from her peers in the production and hogging all the spotlight she can. She talks about a few friends and reminds herself to reach out to them throughout the summer but she never does. I'm not sure if this was intentional or not, in an attempt to show us how isolated she is from her peers. The adults in the production fell in love with her and I'm sure adult readers would find her endearing, but I often wondered if kid readers would like her or be interested in her. Many of the students in my class would probably not have the patience for the many tangents in her narrative. I got the strong feeling while reading that she was written with adults in mind.
Another thing that slightly bothered me, was the revelation that she was not that short. In fact, Julia does not really even spend that much time in her narrative worrying about being short. She picks Olive as a mentor and is fascinated by the confidence she exudes as a dwarf, but for the most part Julia being short seems like a minor detail instead of being significant to the overall theme of the story. The lessons Julia learns tend to be more about being less selfish than being content with her height.
SHORT is a sometimes humorous, often times thoughtful book about growing up. It's more character-driven than plot-driven and Julia Marks is an interesting, reflective character. If Julia was a student in my class, I think I would love her. I'm just not sure if the other students in my class would.