This Much Space by K.K. Hendin

I picked up This Much Space by K.K. Hendin because it was purported to be about a fat young woman who loves fashion and has a lil romance with a baseball player. A couple of things I didn’t know: 1) this is the second book in a series called Twelve Beats in a Bar, and 2) This Much Space would be my first new adult novel!

Hendin writes in the acknowledgements, “To Becca, for helping my dream of having a fat girl on a cover become a reality.” ❤

I did not know this book focused on college students, and I must admit I was relieved that it wasn’t another young adult story! Twelve Beats in a Bar is the name of an acapella group of 12 female college students. One member, Haley, was the focus of the first book, which is where I assume all 12 characters were introduced. Unfortunately, because there are 12 young women in the group, there was no getting to know any of them in depth. Yet, had I read the first novel in the series, I doubt I would have better understood twelve characters.

One scene made me feel annoyed. The acapella group is going to sing at an event with a theme of awareness of other cultures. The secretary of the group asks what languages they know. We get answers: English, Spanish, Hindi, Urdu, Navajo, French, Haitian French, Russian, and Japanese. Given that they’re students at a state school in the Midwest (I attended one myself), I felt like Hendin was off the mark. Better yet, she could have had half as many singers and focused on their personalities instead of telling readers there are twelve diverse women.

The focus of the book isn’t the Twelve Beats, though. The stars are Olivia and Thierry — all chapters are in first-person point of view, but alternate between them. Olivia is a fat freshman on her second semester. She has a horrible job in a high-end lingerie store, which she hopes will bolster her resume, but really she’s organizing bras in the basement. It takes her forever to realize neither sorting clothes nor a business major put her in direct contact with the fashion world. She sews, knits, crafts, and sings with the Twelve Beats. Thierry is on the baseball team, a sophomore with a Brazilian father and Japanese mother (more diversity!). Both end up at a party where Thierry’s roommate calls Olivia fat, and just when he’s about to say something, she defends herself:

Listen, asswipe, I know you were talking to me. I’m the only fat one here. So what do you want, or were you just saying hi?

Thierry likes her personality and body immediately — and he’s not afraid to admit to the reader when he has a boner (“No boners in a public bakery. Not cool, man,” Thierry tells himself). Never once does Hendin send Theirry down a path of shame or uncertainty for his attraction to Olivia. I was so impressed by this. They have sex and go on a date and flirt and OMG. Once again, I’ve got a book in which a character asks, “Can I kiss you?” and I just love this trend. If people had asked permission to kiss when I was dating, I would have felt less nervous on dates!

But a phone call from his dad saying he lost his job sends Theirry spiraling. He’s had problems in the past with major depression. It is always right there, especially given that baseball scholarships are quickly pulled if an athlete wavers slightly in his abilities — football scholarships are the sure thing in the Midwest. Hendin really puts you in the mind of a depressed suicidal cutter, so if you don’t think that’s something you can or should read, please don’t.

I really like that Olivia is a hero without needing to save a whole city or the world (like I see in young adult novels and superhero movies). When she learns that no one has seen Theirry in ages, she finds him in his dorm room in a terrible state and must decide how to approach him. Can you imagine being 19 and taking someone you don’t know that well — but think maybe you love — to eventually get help and admit that they are a cutter and may commit suicide? I was glued to the pages and finished the last half of This Much Space long after midnight. Every bit felt sensitive, realistic, and carefully written. The characters were whole and broken, strong and scared, and real.

There were no parents involved in Olivia’s heroics. That’s scary, too. Parents are too involved in their college students’ lives, but where is there a separation? When are students afforded privacy? Thierry knows his folks will find out that his mental health issues are aggravated when the bill comes from the insurance company, but their feelings don’t matter in this story. Thierry and Olivia are at an age of transition, which I appreciated. College students often aren’t given space to be responsible beyond their homework and laundry, so I liked that Hendin pushed Olivia and Thierry.

Despite there being too many Beats, perhaps an author trying too hard for a diverse cast, Olivia’s character being a bit wonky early on from Theirry’s perspective, and the swearing you’ll hear at a state school, I ate up this novel and felt warm and good after I read it.

27 comments

  1. When I was young you would flirt, go on more than one date, have sex, but perhaps things are different now/in the US. The other big difference with Australia is that from quite a young age children’s medical issues are only communicated to the parents if the child chooses. Glad you found a Fat Lit. you could enjoy.

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    • Oh, people are still totally dating and hooking up, but I was happy because in this novel the main character is fat. Typically, I get a fat young woman who is utterly self-loathing and never gets to have sex. It’s easy to see that authors don’t think fat people are deserving of sex, or that no one would want to have sex with them. Books don’t match the reality most of the time.

      The college itself wouldn’t be able to report a college student’s medical situation unless it was an emergency (like the student needed their next of kin called). But, since our parents have insurance through work, and students are on their parents’ insurance, all that paperwork and so forth goes right to the parents. There is no privacy, which is mind blowing.

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  2. That’s another thing about YA – there’s a lot of “strong” female characters saving the world. I like strong female characters with ‘ordinary’ lives. So glad you enjoyed this one!

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    • I just fell in love with these characters. I pretty much reject all the “strong women” who have to take on the weight of the world. I often think of my neighbor, a black woman who is a public school teacher, often overworked and underpaid, who deals with stuff at home and helps her three adult children when they need her. She’s SO strong, doing the emotional grunt work of many people, but that’s not what YA wants us to believe is strong.

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  3. I’m glad you’ve found a good one! I’ve had a rec on “Holding up the Universe” by Jennifer Niven, which I was told about because it has a prosopagnosic hero, but I noticed on reading the description that it has a fat heroine. It is YA which I know isn’t your favourite, but wondering if you’d heard of it. I’ll keep an eye out for fat themes if I do get and read it (there’s an unpleasant high school ritual in it and I’m just trying to find out if that involves animal cruelty before I buy).

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    • The ritual might also involve hazing. I was glad that This Much Space wasn’t YA. Based on the cover and the synopsis I thought it would be. Although YA has really jumped in with both feet on fat protagonists, they aren’t making the story lines any more interesting.

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  4. This sounds like a complete 180 from some of the other YA books and complaints you had about them (which I enjoyed that post very much). I don’t do well with series books, especially YA, but I am glad you were able to get a sense of the characters without feeling obligated to read the first one. Do you think you might based on this one? Or will you go to the next book in the series?

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    • Because I picked up this book for it’s fat protagonist, I don’t believe I will read the rest of the series (unless Olivia comes back!). One big difference about this book is it is new adult, not young adult. New adult novels are fairly new. They’re set during the college years of a person’s life (around 18-23) instead of high school (14-18). Therefore, the relationships and responsibilities are different. A character may care what his/her parents think, but they don’t go home to mom and dad every night, for instance. I think I may enjoy new adult books!

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        • I only learned about it when I became a blogger. I’m in my 30s, so I never would have heard about it from my friends. I just looked up “new adult fiction” on Wikipedia, and it says the characters are usually 18-30, and that the term was first coined in 2009. So, yeah, it came around a just few years before I started blogging! The funny thing is that when I was 10-12 there was no such thing as “tween,” either. I’m glad people are marketing more specifically, as there are some age ranges during which a person just doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere!

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          • I don’t remember there being any in between reads either. I think it’s important to help cultivate a desire and love for reading and finding something relatable might help a lot of age groups. I remember my aunt giving me books to read when I was in middle school that weren’t age-appropriate probably, it was a lot of times things she had read and thought you need to read this

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            • Were they too grown up? I remember my mom giving me a Harlequin when I was 14, and it had a sex scene. I was on high alert after that, completely unsure of myself and weirded out. I remember her asking if there was anything “too adult” in the book and I said “no” because I was scared to say yes!

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              • Oh no, nothing like that which was a relief esp at that age. she read romance novels which I thought were gross and I don’t care for them. She’d give me books like Black Me or The Color Purple and said read this. I think she also gave me a few Stephen King books but I don’t read horror anymore

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  5. Yay! This one sounds so good.

    “Never once does Hendin send Theirry down a path of shame or uncertainty for his attraction to Olivia.”

    Woohoo! Kudos to Hendin. This is so exciting!

    Does the book go much into her fashion design aspirations?

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    • Yes! She buys her own clothes, which are poorly fitting because designers in real life think that if something fits a fat woman she should be grateful. Olivia will cut them up and resew the clothes to be super cute. She designs a dress made out of books. She selects costumes for her acapella group. Whenever she’s tired of studying for college classes, she gets out her sewing machine. She’s often knitting and quilting. Amanda, I seriously believe you would like this book.

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  6. Sounds like a good read. I keep hearing this term “New Adult” lately – would that be books geared toward college-aged readers? This one doesn’t sound like a young adult book but what makes it different from just general fiction?

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    • I looked at Wikipedia and found that the term “new adult” was coined in 2009. It refers to books marketed to the 18-30 crowd. The books focus largely on college-age people, so it’s something maybe more mature than young adult fiction readers may be ready for (the book I read had quite a bit of swearing and sex, though not explicit). Plus, it would directly address the same life and issues a college-age student would likely face, so it seems largely about serving a niche market, the way “tweens” now have their own clothes, hobbies, and profitability. I’m totally for niche markets, as I remember feeling very lost at certain points in my life — such as ages 10-13 — because nothing was available for me and my needs. I remember shopping and I could either get clothes with cartoons, clothes that were a little more revealing for teens, or clothes my mom would wear.

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      • Interesting. I’m surprised the term has been around that long. It seems to be gaining in popularity/publicity now. For the most part I agree that niche markets can be good. I can remember that awkward pre-teen age too, slightly before clothes and media were really being marketed to that age the way they are now. It’s not the way I generally read books but I know many readers really appreciate those categories.

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  7. Interesting sounding read! Glad that the New Adult genre has some positive fat representation in it. I tend to stay away from NA because there was a trend for it to just be romance/light erotica for college age people, but I think now it’s trying to get more diversity in what type of stories it tells (ie, not just romance).

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    • Because it was my first in recent memory, I don’t have much to compare. The first time I read a book for college-age people was when the author of Sweet Valley High decided it was time to send the Wakefield twins to college. Elizabeth put on *gasp!* 15 pounds, which caused her to have no friends, and Jessica got a boyfriend off campus — yet another bad boy — and started having sex with him. Given that I was reading these books when I was around 14, it was way too much for me.

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