Turner Publishing, 2018
Jill Baguchinsky’s latest novel Mammoth about a plus-size fashion and paleontology blogger is the kind of Young Adult fiction that is able to push the genre away from the cliche and towards the unique while still staying true to its subject and style. Mammoth follows 16-year old Natalie Page has she leaves Florida for a month long internship in Texas at the institute of a famed scientist (perhaps a fictional combination of the personas and accomplishments of real life famed paleontologists like Paul Cereno and Jack Horner).
For Natalie, this is a dream come true as her love of paleontology runs to her core. However, in the world outside of fossils, she has had to re-imagine herself upon entering high school due to intense and cruel bullying about her weight. The persona she has crafted is that of Awesome Natalie, whose love of vintage clothes has earned her significant admiration online. However, she is still plagued by memories of Fat Nat and the novel shows us her negotiating both personas (one external and internal) over this summer internship.
Some readers have asserted Natalie’s persistent negative self-image is fatphobic, an objection that feels misplaced at best and disingenuous at worst. While Natalie’s obsession with her weight certainly springs from our society’s weight stigma, her insecurities are clearly the issues she is striving to overcome. Writing a character who has internalized abuse is hardly abusive, especially when the character is actively attempting to shirk contempt and derision. It is also painful naive to expect a 16-year old to come to a holistic, authentic peace with their body/self over the course of a month. Baguchinsky’s realism confronts readers pushing them to turn their aspersions of Natalie on themselves as the narrative fluently dismantles weight stigma revealing it to be the fatuity it is.
Like most contemporary Young Adult fiction, Mammoth checks off certain boxes to conform to the ease of the style–rich girl/poor girl, a love triangle of sorts, and betrayal by peers and adults. As with all YA fiction, the tropes are less important than the variation created by the author. Baguchinsky’s tone and style is succinct, smooth, and engaging. She gives us snippets of Natalie’s popular Fossilista blog as a rest and glue between chapters as our protagonist strips herself of the armor she’s created to shield herself from bullying and abuse replacing it with an earned self-confidence won through trial and error. It is a messy process made even more so by the skill Baguchinsky has inhabiting the teen mind where anxiety and other random, irrational emotions reign. While Natalie is a superb character, she does seem surrounded by less that fleshed out characters.
Overall Mammoth is more than a satisfying novel.
About the Author
Jill Baguchinsky remembers staring down the bones of prehistoric beasts during a trip to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City when she was six. That visit spurred a lifelong fondness for paleontology that inspired the first draft of Mammoth. While writing Mammoth, Jill worked with several paleontologists and trained at the Waco Mammoth National Monument, learning how to dig and prospect for fossils.
Born in New York and raised in Florida, Jill attended Florida Gulf Coast University and goofed off at Walt Disney World as often as possible. She spent several years in the Augusta, Georgia area, where she was forgiven for being a Yankee, but right now she’s back in southwestern Florida, living with a couple of very strange cats. If she’s not writing, she’s probably selling stuffed monsters on Etsy, procrastinating by playing Minecraft, pretending she can knit, or teaching others how to pronounce her last name. (But let’s not kid ourselves. She’s most likely writing.) She’s known for quoting Ghostbusters, Bob’s Burgers and Jurassic Park at inappropriate moments, and for being that person at a party who spends the whole evening befriending the host’s dog.
Jill’s first novel, Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator, won the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Although spooky stories will always have a place in her heart, Jill knows from experience that just being a teen — having to figure out who you are and who you want to be — can be scary enough.