Read advance reader review of Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen

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Big Girl, Small Town

by Michelle Gallen

Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen X
Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen
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  • Publishes in USA 
    Dec 1, 2020
    320 pages
    Genre: Novels

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for Big Girl, Small Town
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  • Joan P. (Owego, NY)
    Big Girl Small Town
    Big Girl, Small Town is set in times of truce in Northern Ireland. There is still animosity toward the occupying English and uneasiness between the Catholic and Protestant townspeople.

    Majella has lost her uncle who was involved with the IRA, her father has disappeared, and her grandmother has been assaulted and killed in her home. She is a stocky girl whose life is depressingly routine. Majella works each night in a fish and chips shop serving the same customers, hearing the same jokes, and then goes home to an alcoholic mother and a cold, lonely house. She seems to accept the dreariness of her life and expresses no anger at it's hopelessness.

    Among all the darkness you will find loving people, hearty laughter, and marvelous characters. Fans of Edna O'Brien and Frank McCourt will find this a good read. Not for everyone but I couldn't put it down.
  • Laure R. (Fresno, CA)
    Big Girl, Small Town
    I looked forward to this read, believing it was to be "wildly entertaining", even "darkly hilarious" according to reviews. Upon meeting Majella O'Neill, I found very little amusing. I did, however, become involved with Majella and her little community and found it very interesting and sad.
    She grew up in the small village of Aghyogey in an area of Northern Ireland slowly recovering from the Troubles. She and her alcoholic mother still reside there in a deteriorating home in a deteriorating neighborhood. Her father disappeared a few years prior under suspicious circumstances, likely related to the Troubles, and her beloved grandmother was murdered in her rural home recently. No one has been arrested for this crime.
    Majella's main contact with the community happens at the chip shop, where she has worked for several years. Here she is expected to interact with the local customers and dislikes doing so. Her coworker, Marty, is generally kind to her. They have known each other since childhood. The customers include many unusual local characters, some quite amusing.
    Occasionally she goes to the local pub, drinks more than she should, and engages in sex, which she does like. This activity is on her list of "likes". That's a short list. Many things are on the "dislike" list, first and foremost being Other People.
    The writing was excellent. Characters speaking with an Irish accent stopped being a chore to read in short order and I enjoyed the novelty of it and the flavor it gave the story. The last few pages of this story finally let in a ray of hope for Majella's future, thank heavens. I am waiting for more from this talented author.
  • Lauren T. (Orlando, FL)
    Big Girl Small Town
    Big Girl Small Town takes the reader through a week in the life of Majella O'Neill, a woman in her 20s who works at a chip shop and lives with her alcoholic mother. Majella's father disappeared years before, during the time of the Troubles. Her grandmother, her father's mother, has been murdered, and the police are searching for her murderer.

    The book is written in a series of vignettes under headings denoting things Majella either likes or doesn't (mostly the latter). We meet the chip shop's other employees and customers, all residents of Majella's small town, Aghybogey.

    Majella knows what she doesn't like about each customer, but needs Marty's insights and taste for gossip to flesh out her understanding of their lives. She tells us that she has difficulty figuring out people's emotions from looking at their faces, a sign that she may be on the autism spectrum.

    Majella is a sympathetic main character with much to say, mostly about her likes and dislikes. I found the book enjoyable but wished when I had finished reading it that more of the loose ends had been tied up.
  • Joan V. (Miller Place, NY)
    A Side Order of Fries Please
    I had a hard time deciding how to rate this book. At first, I thought two stars but as I progressed, I began to like it more mostly because of Majella the main character. Some readers might be put off by the style of writing which was in a STRONG Irish accent and no quotation marks. Ms. Gallen set the book in a small town in Northern Ireland that still has signs of the Troubles. The British arrest people who come back with black eyes and bruised faces. Majella's Uncle Bobby was in the IRA and is considered a hero by some in the town, her own father's sympathies were definitely with the South.

    We are introduced to lots of characters in the town all with colorful nicknames and the only humor I found in the novel was the description of how they got them. You really got the claustrophobic feel of living in a small town - the hopelessness and resignation. The ending was abrupt and I would like to believe that Majella was able to move on to a better life. One of the town characters was arrested, we never found out why; we also don't know what happened to her father and that makes me hope for a sequel. After reading Big Girl Small Town you will definitely want to head to your nearest chipper for some fries.

    Ms. Gallen is a good storyteller and I would definitely read her next book.
  • Elyse G. (Creswell, OR)
    Okay in a Pinch
    This book is essentially a play-by-play of a week in the protagonist's life. A 27-year old Irish woman, she lives with her mother and works at a Fish and Chip shop. There is a little background of the character - family involvement in the IRA, missing father, recently murdered grandmother. You expect some kind of story involving one or both of these facts, but there's not much. There's a funeral, the police are investigating. The reading of the will contains a surprise, which seems to be the climax of the book, after which one expects some character development, some increase in tension in the story. Don't count on it. One thing you can count on is an overabundance of detail regarding Magella's daily ablutions, bathroom breaks at work and the occasional 'quickie'. what I did enjoy was the local patois, though there were times when I would have appreciated a glossary. Recommended perhaps if you have nothing better to read.
  • Sharon P. (San Diego, CA)
    Torn about my review...half great, half not so great
    Normally I love this type of book...set in another country, depicting a slice of life through a myriad of quirky characters. On the positive side, I thought the writing was fabulous and I loved all the Irishisms, funny nicknames of the patrons and neighbors and the slice of small time life. It even left me craving a nice portion of fish and chips. However, I did not find if funny or even particularly entertaining. I did not like any of the characters much. I admire Majella's loyalist to her mom and her job, but it was all rather depressing without a purpose. I would not call this comedic, hilarious or even full of dark humor...At least not to me. Kudos to the author and her wonderful writing style, but the story just wasn't engaging.
  • Arlene I. (Johnston, RI)
    A Listless life..
    This story takes place in a small town in Ireland during one of the most turbulent periods of time. Magella is the main character and although Michelle Gallen doesn't label her, she is definitely on the autistic spectrum. She lives with her alcoholic mom in a run down neighborhood and house. Magella has experienced much trauma in her 27 years. She doesn't know whether her father is dead or alive, but presumed dead. Her father's mother has been brutally murdered and the reader is left wondering if it is related to her father as the police continue to investigate. Surprisingly with everything Magella has endured and with her disability, her character slowly develops throughout the story. By the end of the book, the reader becomes hopeful that Magella will do much more than survive.

    Magella! Her autism is revealed through snippets. She is awkward with people. Does not like to go to crowded places or streets. She doesn't look anyone in the eye during conversations. She answers in one or two words. She dislikes changing or new situations. She has a difficult time trying to gage people's emotions. She doesn't like change. As the story proceeded, Magella was learning how to cope with some situations in better ways in spite of her egocentric mother.

    The pace of the book was slowly developed in the first half of the book. The chapters are short and dated and titled by what Magella likes or doesn't like. Spoiler alert: dislikes out way the likes. The only part of this book that I felt was humorous was the nicknames of the customers and how they got them. But overall, I found the story to be sad. Although Magella had a few people looking out for her best interest, I felt she was taken advantage of because of her disability.

    Ms. Gallen's descriptions of the era of Protestants vs. Catholic is well depicted. Using the natural language of that era and descriptions, you felt what it was like living in a small town. I thought the story was well-written and the character development was excellent. Although this book will not make my favorite list, I would be willing to read another book by a talented Michelle Gallen.
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