David Glen Robb
Paul, Big, and Smallby: David Glen Robb
A trio of high school outcasts—Paul, Big, and Small—face the complicated world of predators and prey in high school and come to realize that overcoming life’s challenges will take more than perseverance.
Paul Adams is the shortest kid at his high school, and the school bullies relentlessly pick on him. He’s become an expert at avoiding the predatory students and spends the entire day wishing school would end so he can escape to his favorite sport of rock-climbing. This is the only place where he feels in control, competent, and free, despite the inherent fear.
In English class, he’s teamed up on a writing project with two kids who make him nervous because they tower over him. Paul’s rabbit-on-the-run mind goes to work, thinking of ways to escape any inevitable beat-downs.
Lily Small is athletic, attractive, and, despite her last name, is actually very tall. Another kid, who looks almost like a grown man, introduces himself with a long Polynesian name, but says everyone calls him “Big,” and he seems to like the nickname! As they get to know each other—Paul, Big, and Small—discover they have a lot in common as outsiders in their high school.
Lily, in addition to being very tall, is one of the few black students in school and the adopted child of a white family, so she has felt the subtly of casual racism and sometimes feels out of place. Rock climbing helps her handle the stresses in her life. Big is proud of his Polynesian heritage, his large family, and his large stature, and he embraces his uniqueness. Because of his size, he has the power to pummel any adversary, but he tells Paul that his secret weapon is actually the nice way he treats people.
As the trio’s friendship forms, their unique personalities are no longer those of misfits, but complement each other. Paul is timid in school, but a dreamer and aspirational as a rock climber, hoping to one day complete the most difficult and highest wall climb at the gym. Lily is grounded and practical, both in school and as a climber. Big is open-hearted, supportive, calm, and wise—a Yoda-like mentor for the group.
Paul and Lily decide to enter a local competition for climbers, but their plans are abruptly halted by Lily’s diagnosis of leukemia. Paul is terrified of what lies ahead in Lily’s medical treatment, knowing what happened to his mother who died of cancer a few short years before. He retreats back to rabbit mode and can’t even visit her in the hospital. But Lily really wants Paul to go ahead with the competition and advises him to team up with Conor, the student who bullies Paul the most. Reluctantly, Paul agrees to move ahead with Lily’s wish, knowing that Conor is a strong climber and their best chance at winning.
Paul goes to Conor’s house to try to break the ice, but overhears a conversation Conor has with his father, which reveals a secret about his family: his mother is struggling with severe mental illness, and Conor’s beleaguered father has no time to parent and sees Conor more as an additional caretaker, rather than a teenager with his own struggles, often directed as rage towards others.
While Paul is used to dealing with every bully’s rage, experiencing humiliation, and accepting that as his fate, he experiences a life-transforming change of heart when he sees how an endless cycle of bullying can lead to gun violence—a tragic event that happens outside of school. Pulling together things he’s learned from Big, his dad, and Lily, and fueled by a new sense of empathy, Paul is transformed by tragedy from a timid rabbit to a rock that will stand his ground. He vows that bullying in his school HAS GOT TO STOP and he, and other students, must not be predators or bystanders, but part of the solution.
Paul, Big, and Small is about the turbulent, emotional lives of young adults who are struggling with life’s challenges openly and sometimes in secret. They learn to overcome them by speaking the hard truths, learning from the unique gifts of others, adapting to inevitable changes, and finding power beyond perseverance.
- The drastic consequences of bullying force some hard choices: be a bystander or an upstander?
- Paul endures relentless bullying and perceives his high school as a crushing game between predators and prey. Throughout the book Paul expresses tips he’s learned to avoid the bulllies; he sees himself as a rabbit, agile and quick but very vulnerable and sees some kids as predatory animals.
- Paul’s most relentless bully is Conor who he calls the “jackal”- a wolf-like creature who stalks vulnerable prey. However, Conor lives a complicated life. He’s dealing with a mother who is living with mental illness, and his beleaguered father is her caretaker, often neglecting his son. Conor’s anger and resentment is misdirected into bullying others so they experience just some of the emotional pain he endures daily. Conor thinks a lot about taking his own life and when he does Paul realizes that many people are in deep emotional pain which acts like a relentless predator, just like the bullies in school.
- Because of Paul’s small stature, he can’t rock-climb using the same moves as his taller counterparts which makes climbing routes hard – and sometimes impossible to maneuver. Through the course of the book, Paul learns how to take common rock-climbing techniques and change them to accommodate his small size. This parallels his experience with bullies at his school. His small size makes him vulnerable, but he learns how to rely on his friends, use his personality, and observe each situation to counter a potential bully.
- Throughout the book, as part of their English assignment, the students read and discuss the OF MICE AND MEN. When discussing the part when Lennie kills Curly’s wife, the class is divided on whether or not her death was an accident. Conor insists it was murder. Big takes a stand, looks right at Conor and says, “You’re right. It wasn’t an accident. Lennie killed her. He was scared, and he didn’t understand how strong he was. When you think about it, he’s not so different from a lot of us. We go around wrapped up in our own little world, scared of things we can’t always control, and that fear causes us to do cruel things to other people. We’re a lot like Lennie. We don’t realize the impact we have on those around us. People that are fragile, like Curley’s wife, we hurt them, and we don’t really understand how much.”
- Between 2007 and 2015, suicide rates for boys ages 15 to 19 have increased by 30%. Experts site heavy social media use, bullying, family issues and exposure to violence as risk factors. (Huffington Post, Suicide Rates for Teen Boys and Girls are Climbing, Lindsay Holmes 08/07/2017)
- Author David Robb is a lifelong rock climber who has authored climbing guides and articles.
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Publish Date: 2019
Page Count: 336