The Girl Giant

About The Girl Giant

Born to a postman and an English war bride in the late 1940s, a young girl named Ruth begins to grow at an alarming rate. The doctor claims nothing is wrong, but she soars upwards, and is the size of an adult by kindergarten. Though ostracized and teased by the other children, she longs to be among them.

Ruth’s giant perspective gives her a bird’s eye view that conveys her profound capacity for empathy. She can see over place and time – back to the days before she was born, through to the lives of other giants, and even into the intimate thoughts of her mother and father.

Early on, her mysterious affliction causes difficulties in the family. Her mother Elspeth is cold and brittle, her father James kind but dangerously passive. Their daughter is both a connection and an obstacle between them, and also a product of war.  Her rapid growth opens emotional fault-lines, yet it becomes apparent that Elspeth and James each have a deeper guilt they’ve carried with them since the war.

Still, the family holds itself together. But in Ruth’s teen years the bonds seem that much more precarious. James and Elspeth have grown further apart, and Ruth meets a girl named Suzy: “Something I’d been waiting for since the beginning of time, and also nothing I’d ever expected. She was the collision of those two things.”

The Missouri giant, Ella Ewing

While entirely fictional, The Girl Giant was inspired by real and legendary giants alike, and by images such as Diane Arbus’s “Jewish Giant at Home with his Parents in the Bronx” and John Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland, “opening out like the largest telescope that ever was.” Ruth’s own story is interwoven with retellings of The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body and the tale of the Cornish giant Bolster, who falls in love with a girl of normal size. The Victorian giantess Anna Swan and her Kentucky Giant make an appearance, in the wedding of the Tallest Couple of the World, and the Statue of Liberty, with her green copper skin and bones of iron, reveals a “massive, wonderful secret.” But ultimately, this is the story of Ruth, James, and Elspeth, as a family, and also as individuals, each with their own personal demons.

First published by Freehand Books in Canada as And Me Among Them, The Girl Giant has been called “vivid and freshly startling. [Den Hartog] can move a reader to tears as well as to awe” (The Winnipeg Free Press).

An excerpt from The Girl Giant

At the edge of adolescence, I soared past six-and-a-half feet and needed three naps to get through the day. My thirst was unquenchable. I guzzled water whenever no one was looking, because I feared what it meant, and if someone else knew it made the danger more real. What if the food and drink I ingested fed whatever was wrong? I hated my gluttony, and I knew how I looked from the outside, wolfing down my food. The belief that I grew because of my own greed—that it was my fault—became my most painful suspicion.

From the back I looked like an adult, tall and thin, but face-on my childishness still blazed out. My round eyes held a look of expectation and of not knowing what to expect, and it reminded Elspeth of when I’d been a toddler, eager to explore but ignorant of the risks. How stressful it had been for her to watch my every move. This was like that too, though I was past full-grown.

One bright, cloudless day I tripped off the back step and was unable to lift myself to standing. Again and again I pushed my palms into the grass and tried to heave myself upwards, but my legs buckled beneath me every time, and my arms were useless. The sound of my voice made me shudder as I called for help, and Elspeth appeared at the back door, looking out at me. For a second she did nothing, and I was afraid I would have to say what I needed.

Can you help me please?

Can you get me up?

But then she moved towards me and put her hands under my armpits. It was so awkward, touching that way, breathing on each other. She was so much smaller. But I struggled up, then eyed  the bits of dried grass on my clothes.

“Thank you,” I said, without looking at her, and I brushed myself off and carried on, away from her. Her eyes went with me. I could sense her watching, feeling sorry for both of us.

We never spoke of the incident, but it stayed with us. It exacerbated her need to be near me, but on James’s salary alone our financial situation had become precarious. I had already grown far past the bounds of normal, and there were so many things that needed to be custom-made with my steady growth—not just my clothing, which kept Elspeth up in the wee hours, but my shoes and boots. I slept diagonally, with my legs curled, but I needed a longer mattress, a chair that would hold me, and a table that I could pull up to in order to eat my meals “like an ordinary person,” as Elspeth always said. I hated that phrase. But hated more that I knocked the table with my knees or elbows, spilled drinks and shattered china. We couldn’t afford for things to be broken.

Elspeth knew James was right when he said she needed to work.

“Ruthie already gets to and from school alone with no help from you—that is, when she goes,” he added in a disapproving tone.

He didn’t realize that in fact she followed me, dashing unseen from tree to tree through our neighbourhood, even soaring across the bridge behind me and praying I wouldn’t turn around and see her. Then back behind the trees again as we continued to the west side of town. She noticed the way I walked with my head tilted to the right, and how I would emerge from the back lanes with a tentative manner. Sometimes she could see just the edge of my face, and the way it beamed if another child fell in step beside me, and she would rush along the hedgerow, muttering under her breath, Walk with her, please walk with her. Walk the rest of the way with my girl. Then her obsession would switch from worrying about me being alone to worrying about what the other kids said to me. She strained to listen, as if hearing the words allowed her to manipulate them. When I disappeared through the school doors some of her anxiety went with me, because there was nothing she could do now, it was out of her hands. She stood at the river’s edge with those dark circles under her eyes, looking across to the factory where she had worked, and sensing how it buzzed with energy.

On the walk home, she promised herself she’d give up the ritual, but before she knew it she was snooping in my room for clues about how I was feeling, what I was thinking, what I might need that she could possibly offer. But the planes and books and dolls and stones and leaves and the endless sketches of herself and James and me—none of it revealed anything. Guilt gnawed at her as she left the room, like a little virus blooming, but it didn’t stop her from going back to my room later and looking around more. Picking things up, putting them down. A kind of compulsive devotion. She didn’t know what she was looking for, but it bothered her that she didn’t find it.