This book review contains spoilers.
As summer is in full swing, many things like baseball, summer nights with friends, and taking time to figure yourself out come to mind. Biggie by Derek E. Sullivan encompasses all that and more. Set in a small town where everyone knows everyone, Biggie is a story of a boy trying to fit in with the cool crowd. Henry Abbott gets the nickname Biggie early in his life due to his physical size. Heavyset, he continues to live in the shadows of the crowd. Although he is a straight A student and has a way with the ladies online, he does not socialize with his classmates and has no connection to sports, unlike the kind his step father and brother have. From the beginning of the book, his unique personality makes him a character that you instantly gravitate to. He is different and at times relatable. He is flawed in many ways, yet perfect in others.
The style of the story was different compared to what I have else I have been reading. The story was at times edgy, real, and heartfelt. It is clear that in a small town, reputation means everything, so you feel the tug and pull of Biggie’s internal battles throughout the whole story. He wants to fit in yet sets the same standards he sets for himself in school, which is to reach perfection. Biggie’s goal is to throw a perfect game of baseball. But he has other goals along the way, such as getting the girl.
However, I might not agree with how he goes about getting the girl of his dreams; hacking into your dream girl’s email will definitely not work in your favor. But I see why Biggie goes about it the way he does. Biggie is quite the smooth talker online, so hiding behind a screen and taking notes is what he does best. But that process does not translate well with others. Since he does not have much experience with socializing with others outside of the comforts of his bedroom, he does not see it that way. What works for him comes off as creepy to others.
Even though we do not go to the extent of hacking into other people’s social media accounts or emails, in today’s society we too do the same thing in a way. When we have feelings towards someone, we find their social media handles and learn all about them. In Biggie’s case, it brings to light an extreme way this is done. It is an interesting take and one that should be reflected on.
In the end, he does not get the girl that he initially wanted. Instead, a girl that saw him for who he is snatches his attention. Also, he does not pitch an entirety of a baseball game, but he helps the overall team in the end. The outcome is one that he did not expect, but it still works out in his favor.
Ultimately, Biggie was different and distinct among other young adult contemporaries out right now. One of the takeaways that I had after reading the book is that we can be our own worst critic. We set our own limitations and it is not until we let them go that we start going after our dreams and goals. We can be our worst villain, if we allow ourselves to be.
For a more in depth look into Biggie, we had the lovely opportunity to chat with the author, Derek E. Sullivan, who told us more about the story.
- Biggie is quite an interesting character. From being the quiet kid in class to a straight A student, how did you come up with a character like him?
When I remember high school, I remember moments where I just wanted to be alone, where I just wanted to avoid everyone, because I was worried about classmates making fun of me. I remember believing it was easier to avoid people than to make new friends. When I started creating Henry “Biggie” Abbott and his friends, I thought, what would Biggie do to avoid taunting? To me, the answer was easy: stay in the back of the class.
- What inspired you to write Biggie?
I have always wanted to write a story about how a small, seemingly random event can change a person’s life. For Biggie, that event was pitching a perfect game of Wiffle ball in gym class. To everyone else, that day of P.E. was meaningless, but for Biggie it was transformational; all because one girl noticed his athletic achievement.
- We sometimes tend to let labels define us and limit us, and I found that to be a major component of the book. What are your thoughts on labels and how can we break through them?
I fear Biggie let the label of being un-athletic define him more than the label of being “The Fat Kid.” Biggie is a part of a sports-crazed family and a sports-obsessed town. He had no way to deal with not being a star athlete other than slip into the shadows. Biggie got fat for a lot of reasons (genetics, poor eating habits), but a big reason was to get people to stop thinking he could be a sports star like his father.
- Since this is your second novel, what did you find to be the easiest and the hardest thing during the creative process? What were some of your takeaways from writing your first book that helped you write Biggie?
There are a lot of similarities between my first book, which I like to call my “practice novel” and Biggie. The creative process for both was very similar. I spent a lot of time outlining and creating characters and towns. Then, I figured out obstacles for my protagonists to clear. The simple fact is I was a better writer during the crafting of Biggie than my first novel. I also believe I was a better writer during the crafting of my third book than Biggie. I strive to improve every day.
- Also, baseball played a huge part in the story. How did that come about during the creative process? Is baseball your favorite sport?
I love a lot of sports. I picked baseball because I loved the idea of a journey starting on the first day of school and ending on the last day, which is the timeline for Biggie. I also wanted to write a book in which teammates helped my protagonists reach his goal. After all, making friends is as important of a goal for Biggie as pitching a perfect game.
- I understand that you are currently working on your third book. Can you let us know anything about this project?
I don’t like to talk about my works much until the novel is set to be published, but it will deal with current issues affecting teenagers. I hope to have some good news on my next novel very soon.
- Lastly, what message do you want readers to take away after reading Biggie?
I want my readers to know that working hard and being a good friend will lead to great things.
Derek E. Sullivan is an award-winning reporter and columnist from Omaha, Nebraska. As a reporter, he has written more than 1,000 stories about the lives of teenagers, which he attributes to helping him find his YA voice. He has an MFA from Hamline University and lives in Nebraska with his wife and three sons.