The Littlest Bigfoot
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2016 283 pgs
Twelve-year-old Alice has never felt that she has fit in. She is too big, too awkward, and her hair is too untamable and wild. Constantly being forced to change schools within her New York City home, Alice's reluctant parents run out of options and send her to a hippy school in upstate New York. We see Alice's journey, still struggling to find her place. Her roommates seem nice enough, but caught up in their own lives. A new girl, also from New York City yet very cool, befriends Alice and she is at long last part of the "in-crowd", only to have her dreams come crashing around her ears. Alternating chapters tell the tale of Millie, a bigfoot or "Yare". Millie also does not fit in and struggles with being too small compared to her companions. Millie longs to be a famous singer, an impossible dream for a Yare, and is fascinated by humans. On a trip across the lake from her Yare village to spy on the human hippy school, Millie and Alice meet. The two become instant and secret friends. Halloween feels like a perfect time to go out in public together, since Millie's fur will appear to be a costume. Meanwhile interspersed chapters tell the story of a lonely boy named Jeremy, who is a bigfoot tracker. He thinks he has located a bigfoot in this upstate New York community and is anxious to prove to the world that they really do exist. All the characters converge at a final climatic scene, when it is revealed that everyone has something "weird" about them and we need to except each other's differences. Millie's community is left in tact, Alice finds friends she previously overlooked, and a startling revelation is uncovered at the end of the story, leading readers to the next installment in the series.
Adult bestselling author, Weiner, tries her hand at writing middle grade fiction with mostly successful results. Kids have always been fascinated with bigfoot (bigfeet?) and this is the first book I have encounter featuring the legendary American beast. Right there, this is a draw for young people. The book seems to skew a little on the "girlie" side, although why can't a book about bigfoot be aimed at girls? Boy readers interested in these furry creatures will more than likely be put off by what is decidedly a female-centric friendship story. The message of the book is that everyone has something unique and different about them and the excepting each other's differences theme, as well as the anti-bullying missive, are a bit heavy handed and appear to be the true purpose of the book. The fact that a girl gets to be friends with a bigfoot and Weiner makes this encounter feel believable allows me to forgiven the message driven plot. Who wouldn't want to have a bigfoot friend? This premise alone will sell the book to readers. The large font, wide margin and artistic touches will make the book accessible to reluctant readers. Lonely girls with big imaginations will love this story and find companionship in Alice and Millie. The surprise at the end of the book was kind of cool and will lead readers to the next installment in the series. Jeremy and his cyber wheelchair-bound friend are underdeveloped characters, but maybe we will see more of them in installments to come.