‘No Big Deal’ by Bethany Rutter

/5 stars

Published by Macmillan!

Emily is fat. She doesn’t have a problem with it, so why should anyone else? What’s more, there are a billion and one other things that make up who she is besides her body type. For instance, Emily is always wearing something cute, her make-up is killer, with an eclectic music taste to boot. She’s also incredibly smart, well-read, and has a great bunch of friends; Camila, Abi, Ella and Sophia. Unfortunately, everyone else seems to think being fat is a big deal, or, worst still, a problem. And as friendships are put to the test, boys are introduced, and the future is looming, Emily’s fierce and unrelenting body confidence might just be at risk of slipping.

I haven’t been reading a lot as of late, and if I have, it’s rarely been YA. My point? I inhaled ‘No Big Deal’ in 24 hours and it reminded me just how important Young Adult fiction is and all the ways it’s paving the way for tackling all that icky, tricky stuff and reminding us it’s really, actually, completely and utterly okay. Emily as a character is a freakin’ icon. She is potentially one of the fiercest, strongest characters I’ve ever come across in YA and, all at once, I wanted to protect her, even though I doubted she’d ever need my help. Emily, even as a teen somewhat blindly stumbling through A Levels and UCAS applications, knows her own mind and sticks to her guns. She doesn’t take things lying down and she absolutely will not tolerate body shaming.

Too often fat characters are used as a catalyst for the unloveable protagonist; an unconventional love story that unfolds with the popular, perfect guy. The idea that she is beautiful or loved despite the fact her body doesn’t pertain to society’s unreachable standard of beauty. Many books tackling fatphobia end up being a part of the problem. But ‘No Big Deal’ and the unapologetic Emily obliterate that. Not only does Emily have a level of comfort in her body that far outreaches the idea of simply ‘body positive’ — in that it rarely even registers as something worth identifying and labouring over. She also has the fight to take down other people’s shame, including her own mother’s and the copious diet fads she cycles through to no avail. I valued the way Emily, well, I guess, valued herself. Even as she battles to hold onto her sense of self worth at her lowest points, she still comes out fighting for the unwavering self-love and respect that is constantly trying to be ripped away from her.

There’s a special place in my heart for books where the character chooses to put themselves first and put emphasis on the importance of self-acceptance. I felt like Emily took that for herself and stood her ground countless times. It’s a kind of resilience I hope more teens continue to hold onto, because I think too early on we come to doubt ourselves, when we should keep firm grips on that sense of untouchability for a little longer. Emily knows her own mind, highlighted in one of my favourite moments when she called out Joe for not consuming enough media by women. She didn’t shy away from the awkward conversation of gender politics. She flat out had it out with him, and I will give it to Joe that he actually let some of it sink in. But that’s about all the credit I’m giving him, because, let’s be real, we shouldn’t be applauding dudes for doing the bare minimum. Just sayin’.

The relationships explored in ‘No Big Deal’ were cripplingly authentic. I related hard to Emily’s feeling of almost betrayal at Camila, not only for changing but for getting a boyfriend. It’s a rite of passage, losing your best friend to a romantic relationship, and although it’s life, it’s hard. And Emily rolled with the punches of that and didn’t allow it to break her down, even when there was that slight bump in the road for her and Camila. She kind of just… got on with it. It felt as though ‘No Big Deal’ was a testament to girls doing it for themselves, working at their own speed, and, above all else, lifting each other up and empowering one another. From Katie’s sisterly speech of never settling and always remembering you are deserving of the absolute best, to Abi who can also stay for, like, ever. She was the true MVP throughout, not giving into peer pressure and reassuring Emily she didn’t have to either.

Above all else, it felt like ‘No Big Deal’s’ message was to love number one first. Despite society’s internalised fatphobic attitudes constantly niggling Emily — that maybe to succeed, to be fancied, to be loved, she needed to be thinner — ultimately she said it best when *spoiler alert* she let Joe go:

“I like you, Joe. But I like me more.”

Thank you to My Kinda Book  for this review copy!*

‘No Big Deal’ is out 8th August!

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