Readers who enjoyed Holly Goldberg Sloan’s very successful novel COUNTING BY 7’s have long awaited her next book while wondering what it will be about and whether or not it will be as moving as a story about a girl coping with heavy loss. While the book SHORT has a more light-hearted tone, it will not disappoint Sloan’s many fans.
This story is told in the first-person perspective of Julia, a girl whose main trait seems to be that she is incredibly short for her age, which she realizes is a problem only after overhearing a worrisome conversation between her parents about her height. Julia has the whole summer to burn, but doesn’t know how she is possibly going to get through it without her friends who have gone away for the summer. Her loneliness is exacerbated by the fact that she is still deeply mourning the loss of the family dog, Ramon, who she used to faithfully walk and hang around with.
"The interesting characters who Julia meets and the influence they have over who she becomes are what make this book a true Sloan masterpiece."
However, Julia’s mother has other plans and takes her and her brother, Randy, to try out for the local production of The Wizard of Oz. Surprisingly --- even though Julia never thought of her as a performer --- she and Randy both get cast as munchkins. The play ends up being an inspiring experience for Julia. Julia happily finds a role model and becomes friends with Olive, a shorter adult cast member who was also cast as a munchkin. She sees Olive as cool and smooth, even though she can also see that being short presents challenges to Olive as a professional actress. Olive gives Julia power by naming powerful women from history who were also short.
Julia is also very inspired by the colorful director who sees potential in her and casts her further as a flying monkey and nicknames her “Baby.” At the same time, a neighbor on her street who she didn’t know before turns out to be a famous performer and costumer. The interesting characters who Julia meets and the influence they have over who she becomes are what make this book a true Sloan masterpiece. The colorful, drama-filled theater setting and sweaty performance are described so vividly that it is easy for the reader to imagine they are right there at rehearsals and in the play with Julia.
The author admits in the acknowledgements in the back of the book that this book is based on a life-changing summer she spent in the theater and the people she met during her time there. It’s enough to make any reader go outside their comfort zone and try something new.
By the end of the book, Julia feels that even if she hasn’t grown a lot on the outside over the summer, with the help of all the characters she met involved with the play, she has grown a lot on the inside. This growth is illustrated very well throughout the story and especially obvious when readers compare the beginning of SHORT to the end. In the beginning, Julia is very upset when she realizes that she is one of the oldest munchkins who isn’t an adult with dwarfism and almost cries when she notices in a reflection that her little brother is almost taller than her. But then toward the end of the story, she accepts herself so much that when her parents tell her she’s not going to be short forever she is more upset by that fact.
Throughout SHORT, Julia obtains deeper thoughts, closer relationships with those around her and wisdom beyond her years. Readers who want to see Julia grow and thrive after struggling with who she is will love watching her enjoy her journey.
Reviewed by Angela Warsinske on January 30, 2017