A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I picks right up just a few months after Carolyn Mackler's popular The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things (published 15 years ago) left off. Like the first book it explores Virginia's self-esteem and body image, and a lot of plot involves her older brother's crime of date rape. The crime's mentioned a lot, but it's not narrated directly and almost no details about it are provided. There are also a few mentions about how in the past Virginia used to harm herself. Sexy stuff is mostly vague descriptions of kissing and caressing; once two teens both take their tops off and kiss in a tent but decide not to go any further. Adults drink heavily when they're upset, and alcohol's role in the date rape is frequently mentioned while emphasizing that it's not an excuse. Readers feel sympathy for the rape victim, and some may even sympathize with Byron as the story asks how much, if any, punishment is appropriate.
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What's the story?
THE UNIVERSE IS EXPANDING AND SO AM I picks up Virginia's story a few months after the events in The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things. Her self-esteem and body image have improved a lot, but they still have a long way to go. She doesn't really like her boyfriend Froggy anymore, but as a fat girl she feels like if anyone's willing to be her boyfriend she should hang onto him for as long as she can. And it's wearing her out. As are her parents' constant harping on the virtues and values of being thin. That is, until she meets a really cute guy at the bagel shop who's really into her. And until her golden-boy older brother is arrested on date-rape charges. When Virginia learns that she and that cute guy she's now totally fallen for (Sebastian) are connected, and not in a good way, she has to keep their relationship a secret. If they were ever discovered, it would ruin everything.
Is it any good?
Author Carolyn Mackler's sequel comes 15 years after the first book, and fans of that one will be glad to be back in Virginia's company once more. In some ways, The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I takes Virginia on a similar journey as the one in The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things. She's still relatable, still has a messed-up family, and still has a way to go as far as self-esteem and body image are concerned. But fans of the first book will enjoy following her as she continues to heal, grow, and learn that she's so much more than a fat girl.
Mackler conveys the events of the first book well enough that you don't need to read it before this one in order to understand the characters or events. But it will deepen your understanding of everything Virginia's been through if you do. It's also a good chance to talk about the importance of consent, date-rape culture, and body image with teens during a crucial time in their development.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I treats Byron's crime of date rape. Do you think his initial punishment of expulsion was enough? Should he go to jail? Why, or why not?
How do Virginia's body image and self-esteem change? What makes them change? Does she inspire you in any way?
Did you read the first book? Which do you like better? Why?
- Author: Carolyn Mackler
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books
- Publication date: May 29, 2018
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 17
- Number of pages: 288
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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