I feel I should begin this review with a disclaimer—I love this author. Matthew J. Metzger writes characters that most assuredly resonate in my heart and leap off the page for me. I am thrilled that he also consistently includes trans and bisexual characters who often don’t fit the nice, careful boxes we cisgender folk sometimes think we can put them into without remembering how unique each individual is in real life. With his latest release, Big Man, Metzger takes on what has become a controversial topic concerning how one young man views his body and the bullying he gets from being overweight.
Max Farrier has always been big. He has changed schools three times due to the physical and verbal bullying he has received due to his weight. Now with the nickname “fatso Farrier” following him into his teen years, fifteen-year-old Max is just done with it all. He, himself, can see nothing but a fat, unattractive body and refuses to even look in the mirror anymore. He walks carefully through the school corridors, hoping the bully Jazz and his scary mates don’t choose that day to do such things as push his head into a toilet and then urinate on him, or beat him senseless. Unfortunately, it’s a rare day when Max is able to escape the threesome and his life has become a special kind of hell. Thinking he is useless and stupid, Max is biding his time till he is out of school so that he can work in his Aunt Donna’s electrical shop and disappear. However, his Aunt Donna has other ideas.
When she approaches Max with the idea that he must take a special class at the local boxing gym before she will allow him to come work for her, he is gobsmacked and more than a bit terrified. He hates people seeing him sweat—seeing his fat—seeing him undress and shower. But Max is stuck and has to attend the class if he is to get what he wants—a ticket out of further schooling and a chance to just disappear. Little does he anticipate meeting another student in his semi-private lessons. Cian is pretty…but masculine…has curves…but also muscles…and confuses Max completely. When he discovers that Cian hates his body nearly as much as Max does his own, a friendship is borne and attraction follows soon after.
Above is an admittedly shallow synopsis of an outstanding novel. I have been informed that this story has created some controversy and the author has been accused of fat shaming. (A personal aside—I am a large woman and have been all my life so I find myself very sensitive about this subject matter.) I found no such claim to be true; instead what I read was the journey of one downtrodden, beaten young man traveling to a place where he began to accept his size and discover he was worth so much more than every past and present bully has told him he is. I grant you that Max began a regimen of exercise that gave him more muscle than rolls of excess weight, but the author is quick to point out that Max will never be the “ideal” thin beefcake we see gracing the pages of every magazine. No, Max will always be a big guy—and that is just fine because it is what lies inside Max that others find appealing—especially Cian.
The beauty of this novel lies in both Cian and Max beginning to understand that despite their exterior, the things that make them alluring are inside—and others will see that if you have the confidence to let them. For Max, the constant abuse of bullying has driven his self-esteem into the ground. He hates himself most days and when he begins to change physically, he can’t even see the differences—instead he thinks his mum must be stretching his clothing. He has begun to believe what the bullies have said about him—that he will never amount to anything, that he is stupid, fat, useless, that no one could ever like him, much less date him. When all that begins to change for Max, I wanted to cheer him on. It’s a gradual thing; the author sensibly doesn’t rush either one of his characters. For Cian, having Max view his unaltered body—a body that he sometimes hates when things feel so good in places that have the wrong parts—is sheer torture. The slow building trust that develops between the two teens is just gorgeous to read.
In the end, each reader will have to determine for themselves if this author succeeded in portraying two physically different teens with a most similar problem—self-hate. Learning to love ourselves is not easy in this perfection driven society, but the novel, Big Man, reminds us that our beauty lies both inside and in the fact that we are all different. I think the author did an exceptional job driving those ideas home. For this reviewer, Big Man was a success and a novel that should be on your to-read list.