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The Girl Giant: A Novel [Paperback]

Kristen den Hartog
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

June 12 2012
“Something good can come from even the most terrifying things. For eve y thing that is taken away, something else is given.”

Ruth Brennan is a giant, “a rare, organic blunder pressed into a dollhouse world,” as she calls herself. Growing up in a small town, where even an ordinary person can’t simply fade into the background, there is no hiding the fact that Ruth is different: she can see it in the eyes of everyone around her, even her own parents. James and Elspeth Brennan are emotionally at sea, struggling with the devastation wrought on their lives by World War II and with their unspoken terror that the daughter they love may, like so much else, one day be taken away from them. But fate works in strange ways, and Ruth finds that for all the things that go unsaid around her, she is nonetheless able to see deeply into the secret hearts of others—their past traumas, their present fears, and the people they might become, if only they have courage enough.

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Review

“Gorgeously written and tremendously moving . . . More than a coming-of-age tale, this is the story of a whole family and the secrets that haunt each member. Every sentence sparkles.”—Karen Thompson Walker, New York Times bestselling author of The Age of Miracles


“With exquisite insight and boundless imagination, Kristen den Hartog takes me inside the soul and body of a young giant, letting me experience her bliss, her shame, her wisdom. Heartbreaking and exhilarating.”—Ursula Hegi, author of Children and Fire


“In a post-World War II Canada, a young girl quickly grows to seven feet tall. This absorbing novel chronicles the excruciating loneliness of her adolescence, the strains in her parents' marriage, and the development of her uniquely optimistic view toward life.”Real Simple


“'It certainly was something to feel my body elongating, opening out like the longest telescope that ever was,’ confides young Ruth Brennan in Kristen den Hartog’s short yet ambitious The Girl Giant, a novel set in Canada after World War II about a deeply intuitive girl who grows to be more than seven feet tall.”Elle


“[A] delicately-drawn portrait…Innocent and dreamy, combining fairy tale and true giants in history, den Hartog’s simple story offers a sweetly insightful mix of anguish and tenderness.”Kirkus Reviews


“Like Hilary Mantel’s The Giant O’Brien and Ellen Bryson’s The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno, den Hartog’s lovingly fashioned narrative turns people often labeled as freaks into human beings with whom the reader can identify.”Library Journal 


“Very intimate . . . Den Hartog paints a picture of ordinary lives simply trying to deal with their own demons while holding on to what they love. It is a lovely book written with tenderness for all the characters.”Louisville Courier-Journal


“Den Hartog’s small-in-scale novel about an enormous girl . . . [r]eads like both an expanded bedtime story and a quiet, coming-of-age novel.”Booklist


“[A] beautifully written book about family, relationships, and accepting who we are in relation to the people we love. . . . In addition to being a beguiling story, The Girl Giant is beautifully written with a dreamy, poetic feel to it.”—Belletrista.com


“James and Elspeth, an ordinary couple, become a spectacle when their daughter, Ruth, grows more than seven feet tall. With a delicate and lyrical touch, Kristen den Hartog forces the parents to confront their buried fears in [The Girl Giant], letting the intuitive Ruth navigate the often-scary world.”Elle (Canada)


“Den Hartog captures and amplifies the terrifying fascination all parents feel about their new child by placing Ruth at the centre of a family that teeters around her every issue (normalcy, beauty, growth, bullying, broken hearts, future hopes), all of which are monumentalized by the girl’s size . . . emotionally exquisite and heartfelt, and captures the madness of parenting in an utterly unique twist on the first-person point of view.”—The Globe and Mail


“[The Girl Giant]—inspired by Diane Arbus’s 1970 photograph of an American giant and the ‘triangle of mother, father, and child’—is a poignant coming-of-age story leavened by an endearing if vulnerable character whose world view is conveyed through inviting, effortless prose.”—Brett Josef Grubisic, Vancouver Sun


“Breathtaking . . . den Hartog works wonders with both the mundane and the extraordinary—we've read accounts of storming the beaches of France during the Second World War before, but the author's recounting is vivid and freshly startling. She can move a reader to tears as well as to awe.”—Winnipeg Free Press


“Both lyrical and appealingly nimble . . . an elegant, satisfying investigation of small-town Canadian life, teenage isolation, and the universal quest for acceptance.  The fact that it stars a 7-foot-tall clairvoyant is almost beside the point.”—Edmonton Journal


“A touching and atmospheric story.”Susan Swan, author of The Wives of Bath

About the Author

Kristen den Hartog’s previous novels are Water Wings, The Perpetual Ending, which was a finalist for the Toronto Book Award, and Origin of Haloes. The Occupied Garden: A Family Memoir of War-torn Holland was written with her sister, Tracy Kasaboski, and was a Globe Notable Book of 2008. She lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A gentle tale, and yet... May 30 2013
By Schmadrian TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
I read this novel under its original title, 'and me among them'. As I had read two of the author's other books, I was expecting a minimalist effort chock full of casual observations that leaned towards the profound, good character sketches that didn't seem strenuously composed, all placed on an uncomplicated frame. And that's what I got: 'and me among them'/'The Girl Giant' is the indie film as opposed to the mainstream box office hit. Within its stylistic genre, it's a pleasant accomplishment. However...

I'll concede that I may well be the only reader who was affected by the use of a 'first-person, semi-omnicient' narrator, but it essentially flavoured the novel so much that it became more of a presence to me than the tale itself. I was, in turn, mystified by the choice, annoyed by it, and at the worst of times, creeped-out by it. That Ruth, the main character, would have access to so much that she simply could not have had access to, unsettled me, effectively kiboshing my enjoyment of the story. Further, I'm not convinced that having it told by Ruth at all was the best choice; first-person narrations can be either so limited as to lessen the telling's effectiveness, or inconsistent with the character's capabilities. For me, Ruth's telling was affected by both of these notions. (What would have worked for me would have been either third-person omniscient, or a mix of this interspersed with Ruth's contributions.)

As well, I did not understand why she referred to her mother and father by their first names. Again, I felt a muddling of narrative choices, and some intimacy was lost by calling them James and Elspeth.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A touching, bittersweet story June 13 2012
By bookreader "Melanie" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Ruth, the narrator of The Girl Giant, cannot stop growing. She outgrows her baby clothes on an almost weekly basis, is almost five feet tall her first day of school. She is taller than her parents while still in elementary school and soon she is over seven feet tall. Her parents must knock down walls and doors and the roof in the house to accommodate their daughter's growing body.
She's an outcast at school, where her classmates won't play with her and instead, mock her. Her father, James, is haunted by his WWII experience, while her mother, Elspeth, a British war bride who lost her parents to a bombing, wonders about the life she left behind. The story takes place in the 1950's before gigantism is fully understood. Ruth's doctor says all is fine. Elspeth refused to acknowledge the problem also and James is not strong enough to insist on a second opinion. With her parents preoccupied with their own problems, Ruth retreats into her own world, until she meets her first friend.
But Ruth struggles to find her place in the world and accept herself. This novel is a bittersweet story that is so well written. It is a short book, but definitely a must read. I read it in two days, and loved this story. The author really makes you feel so much empathy for the character of Ruth. Although Ruth is not a real person, this book is based on the real issue of gigantism.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous Jan. 11 2013
By mykl-s - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A fascinating piece of writing, this book by Kristen den Hartog. A review by Lisa Sanders speaks of its "quiet charm," and I cannot but agree. It is quiet, but much happens in its 220 pages. The narrator Ruth, our giant girl, tells her own story in first-person, but also knows the stories of both her parents, all their secrets, hopes, fears. She knows their stories in ways they would have never told her. She is a magical creature, remarkable for her understanding more than for her size. I don't know of another writer able to pull off what den Hartog has done here.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars easy read June 18 2012
By Vicki Madden - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Put yourself in someone else shoes. Author did a good job of making the characters personalities come to the reader.
1.0 out of 5 stars This book was depressing, without any uplift. The ... July 23 2014
By Frances R. Hobbie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was depressing, without any uplift. The concept of a beloved child growing to immense proportions is bizzarre enough, but there was no resolution or understanding brought to the problem and how it might be positively addressed.. A "downer" unfortunately. I have worked with handicapped children for years, and this is one handicap I never encountered. Almost unbelievable.
3.0 out of 5 stars A gentle tale, and yet..., May 30 2013
By Schmadrian - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
read this novel under its original title, 'and me among them'. As I had read two of the author's other books, I was expecting a minimalist effort chock full of casual observations that leaned towards the profound, good character sketches that didn't seem strenuously composed, all placed on an uncomplicated frame. And that's what I got: 'and me among them'/'The Girl Giant' is the indie film as opposed to the mainstream box office hit. Within its stylistic genre, it's a pleasant accomplishment. However...

I'll concede that I may well be the only reader who was affected by the use of a 'first-person, semi-omnicient' narrator, but it essentially flavoured the novel so much that it became more of a presence to me than the tale itself. I was, in turn, mystified by the choice, annoyed by it, and at the worst of times, creeped-out by it. That Ruth, the main character, would have access to so much that she simply could not have had access to, unsettled me, effectively kiboshing my enjoyment of the story. Further, I'm not convinced that having it told by Ruth at all was the best choice; first-person narrations can be either so limited as to lessen the telling's effectiveness, or inconsistent with the character's capabilities. For me, Ruth's telling was affected by both of these notions. (What would have worked for me would have been either third-person omniscient, or a mix of this interspersed with Ruth's contributions.)

As well, I did not understand why she referred to her mother and father by their first names. Again, I felt a muddling of narrative choices, and some intimacy was lost by calling them James and Elspeth.

Having said all this, in looking at the reviews of others, I can certainly understand why 'and me among them' would charm and hold such a dear place in their hearts, and that my observations would be seen as the quibbles of someone not aligned with the stylistic approach the author takes when she writes. My only response is that I'm nevertheless looking forward to Ms Den Hartog's next offering.
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