Mammoth by Jill Baguchinsky

Mammoth by Jill Baguchinsky is about Natalie, a teen girl who has a blog that mixes fashion advice with paleontology facts. She’s a huge bone nerd and has found an audience of 60,000+ that likes this clothing/bone crossover. The novel opens with Natalie heading to the airport for an internship at the Central Texas Mammoth Site at Austin State University for four weeks. When Natalie gets there, she finds not everyone is enthused about the interns’ presence, especially since the program exists so rich people will send their kids to the Site and fund their new museum. Natalie, however, is there on scholarship.

Baguchinsky’s novel follows many YA tropes: absent parents, kissing crushes, a frenemy, a fight with the bestie, and dreams coming true. But there were some aspects that felt new. Unlike Millie from Puddin’ by Julie Murphy, Natalie is knowledgeable about her dreams. Millie wanted to be on the news but never watched, paid attention to, or talked about news. Natalie, on the other hand, shares paleontology facts with museum visitors, shows other interns how to screen for small bones, and obsessively follows a paleontology podcast to learn more. If the character has a dream, she has to know something about it and have it be part of her personal make up.

Natalie’s solid knowledge about paleontology may be what keeps this book from being overly predictable. Mammoth is in present tense, which means you have to experience everything alongside Natalie. Nothing is reflected upon. Also, the novel is in 1st person, meaning we don’t leave Natalie’s head. However, it’s her specific knowledge that keeps her character consistent. In the first chapter, Natalie is established as a fashion guru, and she learned from her aunt how to sew and find vintage clothes in used shops. At one point when the interns are each given Mammoth Site t-shirts and Natalie’s doesn’t fit, she cuts cute panels into the sides and makes a new shirt. I didn’t feel like Baguchinsky was falling into telling her own life story behind a character name. Natalie is her own person with distinct qualities.

However, not all of those qualities are great — and they all pertain to fat shaming behaviors. Every day Natalie comments on the “industrial-strength shapers” she wears, an item worn under the clothing to make the body look more “shapely” and less fat. Despite the Texas heat wave, she wears loads of make-up that take hours to apply, dresses, and heels (even on the day they head into the woods for a dig).

I did pay attention; there was something about Natalie that suggested she wasn’t your average fat person who hates being fat. She wears a hair tie on her wrist and snaps it to hold in her feelings. Around people she restricts her food intake, but when they’re gone she eats a slice of pizza or a BBQ sandwich. Baguchinsky doesn’t choose to have Natalie binge in secrecy, thus validating those who believe fat people have no self-control. Natalie’s learned to hold herself in in many ways, likely from the comments she gets in real life and the trolls on her blog.

When I read my notes, I can see there is development in the character. She goes from fairly negative to owning some confidence through her skills (paleontology, sewing, thrifting, blogging) instead of her appearance (make-up, hair, dresses, heels, the “Look of the Day” photo on her blog that makes her feel obligated to always be attractive, guessing other women’s weight). Although I hope to one day read more novels in which characters have already crossed over that self-hating hump, Natalie’s progress satisfied me. I confess it was hard, as a fat woman, to read all her self-hating thoughts along the way. Yet, I would recommend Mammoth.

*I want to thank Liz @ Libro Full-Time for recommending Mammoth. I always appreciate it when readers bring books for my Reading Fat Women challenge to my attention. It helps reduce the number of books that I read that are completely damaging to my mental well-being as I work on this goal.

On a side note, I’m re-reading Dietland by Sarai Walker, this time aloud to my husband. He’s really into it, and every time I think about a solid rec for fat fiction, it’s Dietland. The main character hates being fat, but she goes through a dramatic change during which she learns that she doesn’t have to be “fuckable” (the term used in the book). I’d argue Natalie goes through a similar, albeit much smaller, transformation.

20 comments

  1. Phew! Thanks for the link back and I’m glad you would recommend it. You picked out all the things I liked about it and it was very interesting to have your apply your lived experience as a fat woman – for some reason, I’ve not been that negative about my own body through my life (lots of the rest of me, oh yeah, but not particularly that) so I probably missed a lot of her negative talk and minimised that in my experience of the book, making it more positive than yours. I do love how she doesn’t lose weight (but does adjust her clothing choices as she becomes more confident) and how she is trying to work on those negative thoughts, though.

    Like

    • It’s almost the basic “dress for the job you want” mentality that we tell people when they go for an interview. She was dressing like she wanted to be attractive/sexy all the time, but that’s not a job. She needed to learn to dress for the field! I’m so glad you don’t feel negatively about your body, Liz. It really is a learned thing, so I’ll bet your community and/or family don’t obsess with body size. I’m surprised that it didn’t shock you, then, when Natalie would mentally weigh everyone she met.

      Like

      • Oh yes, I forgot that bit. I did notice that but thought of it as an outcome of her interest in clothes, too. I notice people with one leg longer than the other and like trying to spot other runners (I once accused a man doing elaborate stretches on a ferry of being a runner: he wasnt’!). Community is pretty well diet-obsessed but having a close friend with anorexia (something I am not comfortable reading about) ended any move towards that. Family, I won’t go there in public, I have good cousins and an aunty and they accept me for who I am. Running has given me a lot of confidence, if you can run 26.2 miles, whatever size or speed you are (and anyone can: the fat runner community is amazing!), you tend to feel a bit awesome!

        Like

  2. I would be also happy with the book’s outcome as character’s growth is something I always look for and get super annoyed when it’s absent from a book. 🙂 Mammoth sounds much better than Puddin’! Another book I may possibly read when the time is right. Thank you!

    I have added Dietland to my TBR list as it’s something I really want to read. Thanks for its recommendation.

    Like

    • I would read Dietland first, as it’s the best. I will say that I read a few reviews of Dietland on Goodreads in which women said the book was very triggering for them as fat women who have gone through the psychological horror of dieting, which often leads to serious eating disorders.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Side note: I love that cover of Dietland! Mammoth sounds interesting, I love this paleontology aspect to the character, very unique! My main question is, how does someone have time to be passionate about dinosaur bones AND dress really well AND sew cute things AND do their make-up consistently? There aren’t enough hours in the day!

    Like

    • Exactly. I felt like her fashion thing distracted from her desire to be a scientist. I mentioned on Twitter that I don’t understand why YA novels about fat girls focus on their fashion choices. It’s as if to see, “See! We can be fat AND cute!” But the point is they’re still focused on their appearance as a measure of worthiness and dignity.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Look at there! A YA book that didn’t frustrate you to know in. That seems promising, maybe off to a good start in the ones you have lined up to read.

    I do enjoy a character who’s going to grow in the book, esp with the target audience. Reading this book made me think about the show, Bones! 😊

    Like

  5. This sounds like an interesting read! The paleontology angle seems a bit different. I’ve only ever read one other book with a focus on paleontology – Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier about Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot. Mixing paleontology with fashion sounds intriguing!

    Like

    • The main character had a dress with little bones all over it. Why didn’t cute dresses exist when I was high school? Actually, no one wore dresses. We were in the throes of Slipknot culture, so everyone wore huge paints and died their hair and had lots of bracelets. It was definitely comfortable fashion, but nothing I’d want to look back on and revisit, lol.

      Like

Insert 2 Cents Here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s