by Angela Cainen
The idea of giant women fighting monsters is perhaps not a new one. However, Jason Howard, who is doing both the writing and art duties takes Big Girls in a different direction. In this current climate the battle is rephrased with the addition of gender. The Big Girls and the monsters – the Jacks – have the same behemothic mutation except it turns the boys, the Jacks, into literal and supposedly mindless monsters, while leaving the girls just very big.
In this dystopian land the Big Girls are tasked with looking after the Preserve, the last bastion of ‘good’ humanity, under the command of High Marshall Tannik, a man more ruthless than the monsters that he claims to be protecting the Preserve from. Then there are the Big Girls themselves. Young Ember who was taken away from her family at a young age and who seems to have a touch of compassion for the jacks which leads to her taking on unorthodox actions.
Then there’s ruthless Apex, the leader of the trio, and Devon, another big girl who likes to get in on the action. All three are subject to experiments as male scientists ponder why this weird mutation affects the boys so badly and leaves the girls so unaffected.
Meanwhile, a father grieving over the execution of his partly Jack son (and yes child murder does crop up in this book) meets up with a resistance movement led by Gulliver, a fanatic who is the literal opposite to Tannik.
Thus we have the setup for this volume, as we follow Ember through the world she has to navigate, where both men and women are monsters, but who are the real monsters?
As a woman there are times where the message muddles me. On the one hand we have the Jacks as monsters, seemingly without any redeeming qualities, a metaphor for the worst excesses of male violence, but on the other hand we have the Jacks as needing understanding and not beyond saving. We have a mother caring for her Jack son with tenderness, and given that women are the ones who in the real world have to do much of the emotional lifting that didn’t always sit right with me. Especially as in traditional gender roles we always expect the mother to be the one with the unconditional love for her children, perhaps particularly her sons. The phrase ‘only a mother could love’ springs to mind and not in a good way.
On the plus side if you like punch ups between large people and monsters then this is definitely the book for you, there is plenty of that but the violence always seems to serve a purpose and is never excessive. There is also the subtle message that violence is not always the answer and to be fair that message is delivered in a pretty good way. It doesn’t punch you in the face like the characters are doing to each other.
The art is gritty and said punch ups are very well illustrated. There’s also a nice dystopian feel to the art, a grimy place in the future where science has made too many mistakes. The Jacks also manage to look like individuals despite the same basic design.
There is also depth to the characters. Ember has her backstory revealed in flashback with hints as to why she is the way she is. Unfortunately we don’t get much on the other two big girls. Devon in particular we know little about which is shame. The backstories of the protagonists Tannik and Gulliver are also revealed in flashbacks and it’s interesting to see them in a different light once we learn what happened to inform how they act in the present, two sides of the same coin.
Overall there’s a lot going on in Big Girls. It’s not just about giant women killing monsters. At times I am not sure that the metaphors, if they are even there, work. I do feel that a woman writer would have taken a slightly different tack. Still it’s an interesting read in amongst the current online debates between men and women, boys and girls.
As deep down don’t we all just want to punch monsters? Maybe.
I think Big Girls is worth a read and your time.
I’d give it 3 out of 5 dystopian, mutated people.