I give this quirky children's book about misfits and bigfoots...2 bigfoots out of 5.
I'll be honest here, I've never read any of Jennifer Weiner's works. At all. My mom owns some of her books, but I've never been a fan of romance novels or adult novels. I always thought they were kind of boring. So when I found a copy of The Littlest Bigfoot in Barnes and Noble one day, and its sequel, I was curious and rented it from my library. The premise sounded interesting, a misfit girl befriending a misfit bigfoot child, and those kinds of stories are usually my cup of tea, but I didn't want to buy it and then find out I don't like it and not be able to give it back. Now that I've read it...unfortunately, for someone who's billed as a big bestselling authoress, I can't say this is a very good book at all. It's actually kind of bad, and since I haven't read any of her other books, I can only imagine that her other novels aren't like this one.
The story is about a young girl named Alice Mayfair. She's pretty much a klutzy misfit who's an outcast in school and neglected by her rich family, constantly being sent from school to school because her klutziness gets her into big trouble. As a last resort, her emotionally detached parents send her off to yet another school, hoping it'll rectify her many problems. On the other hand, a bigfoot named Millie is interested in humans and believes they're not all bad, but her tribe won't let her anywhere near them for fear of exposure and persecution. There's also a subplot about a boy named Jeremy wanting to study bigfoots and meet one in real life. The three of them meet and set off a chain of events that threaten to destroy all they've tried so hard to attain.
Honestly, nothing about this book stood out to me, other than Alice's plight, and not in a good way. On one hand, I always liked stories about outcasts who are shunned by other kids for whatever reason, because I was in that situation myself. On the other hand, Alice's life is pretty much full of bad stuff: Her parents are emotionally neglectful and don't give two shits about her, she's so klutzy and clumsy that apparently she causes catastrophies everywhere she goes, all of which result in her getting kicked out of several schools, and said neglectful parents are always shipping her off to boarding schools so they don't have to deal with her. Now, I'm sure this has happened to various kids in real life, because let's face it, life isn't all sunshine and rainbows. However, with the way Weiner writes it, it felt like the story was just trying to crap on Alice every chance it got, rather than letting these things happen naturally, in a more organic, seamless fashion. It just got tiring to slog through after a while.
Which leads me to the book's absolute biggest problem ever: It completely violates "show, don't tell," by telling literally EVERYTHING. EVERY SINGLE PAGE IN THIS ENTIRE BOOK is absolutely nothing but telling, telling, telling, with zero showing anything at all. We never see Alice's clumsiness actually cause problems for her. We never actually see her parents neglecting her. We never see the things that happened to Millie's family in the past. We never see the other kids make an effort to make friends with her. The writing style is so dull, bland, and feels so much like a shopping list that it made me wonder if this whole thing was written by a high schooler. Every sentence and paragraph was so simple and condescending, it felt like the writer didn't trust her audience and felt she had to explain every single little thing to the readers in order to tell the story. And this is supposedly written by a famous best selling authoress? Also, no, the fact that it's a children's book is not an excuse for such poor writing and prose. Kids don't like being talked down to, and I've read plenty of kids books that had much more lyrical, imaginative, immersive, engaging prose that never went out of its way to insult its audience's intelligence. The only thing I have to say about this is that I hope to God the rest of her books aren't written this way, especially considering Weiner is supposedly a famous, best selling author.
The characters were equally bland and uninteresting as well. There was just nothing to them. Alice is a typical misfit who whines about everything, Millie is a Yare (bigfoot) who wants to learn more about humans, and Jeremy is a kid who wants to study bigfoots. There's also the typical ineffectual friends, the snooty mean girl who uses and bullies Alice for her own amusement, the hip teachers who try to meet the kids at their level, everyone was just so cookie cutter and bog standard that I couldn't find myself to care for any of them. I especially don't care for Jeremy and his subplot, because I barely remember anything about him or his part of the story. If you can't remember a character or their subplot, you know you've done a terrible job at writing them. Every single character was cliche, bland, one-dimensional, and were basically cardboard cut-outs of every character archetype known to man. Also, there's this one character that Weiner shoved in who is apparently a super hip, agender social justice warrior who specifically says uses ze/xir pronouns. This one was especially obnoxious, as not only did they not contribute to the story at all, I felt like Weiner just created this character solely for the purpose of telling social justice warriors who might pick up the book, "Hey, SJWs! Look at me! I made this character who uses ze/xir pronouns and is super hip and edgy and trendy and woke just for you! See how woke and trendy and PC I am? Notice me and my awesomeness!!!" I hate it when book writers feel the need to shove in things that obviously cater and pander to rabid social justice warriors. If you want to write a character who's uber unique and special and does appeal to them, fine, but don't make it so obvious that it feels like you're flashing a big neon sign that can be seen from space in doing so! Honestly, you could cut this character out and nothing would be lost.
I'm not gonna lie, the story itself was just dumb as well. Misfit girl meets bigfoot, they go on adventures, get in trouble, the day is saved, and everyone is happy. I especially hated the ending. It was basically everyone in Alice's entire school gathering together and confronting some mean press about Millie and screaming at the top of their lungs that freaks are people and outcasts deserve to be accepted and loved and that appearances don't matter. Normally, I like this kind of moral, as it is important even in today's era, but Weiner writes it in a way that completely hammers it into our brains to the point of being obnoxiously preachy and self-righteous, so much so that it felt like an after school special. Seriously, Weiner. TRUST YOUR AUDIENCE. Don't just spell things out for them and hammer the ham-fisted moral into our heads! It was completely unsubtle, uninteresting, and downright annoying. I can recommend so many other books that manage to tell this message in a much more balanced, nuanced, subtle way without being preachy or obnoxious in the process.
All in all, if you're looking for a genuinely good book for kids, stay away from this one, and don't let the fact that Weiner wrote this fool you. Just because she makes money and writes books doesn't mean her bibliography is full of masterpieces.