Jemima Small Versus the Universe – Tamsin Winters

Warning: discussion of emotional bullying & peer aggression- both in book and personal. It’s taken me longer than I wanted to be ready to post this.

Jemima Small Versus the Universe touches on the shock that was Judy Blume’s Blubber but for this generation and done way way way better and with hope, friendship and body positivity at the core and outcome.

I applaud Tamsin Winters for creating a book like this. It’s brutal, painful and incredibly sad but at its core it’s truthful and unflinching.

As someone who was the victim of bullying albeit not for being overweight, a lot of the tactics of Jemima’s core bully were uncomfortably familiar- this book is necessary, it shows children who aren’t bullied what it feels like and it shows children who are that they are not alone but there is a way out, there is hope.

Cover design by Will Steele & Katherine Millichope

Jemima Small has always been on the larger side, but it never mattered until she started to see how people even her father treated her differently for her size and her mother, well she went out years ago and hasn’t been heard of since.

Jemima is smart, super smart, like genius level but began to lose faith and value in herself because no matter how clever she was, no matter what score she got or how many quadratic equations she could solve, at the end of the day it seemed like people just saw her size rather than her, especially Lottie Freeman.

When the school sneakily assesses all the students BMI- a process that is painful for Jemima to begin with- Jemima is signed up to a group led by Gina a peppy super fit former athlete but this group leads to further mocking and derision by Lottie and other bullies.

But with the nationwide auditions for Brainiac basically a tv show with Britain’s cleverest kids could Jemima find her inner goddess, or is Lottie right and no one wants to see someone like Jemima on the tv?

I know that weight is partly gravity. And if I lived on the moon, I’d hardly weigh anything at all. Unfortunately, I live on Earth. and I have a teacher who thought it was fun to find out I weighed more bananas than anyone else on the planet.

I loved this novel on many levels even though it was gut wrenching to read. I want my own Gina and my own Aunt Luna, the female empowerment in this novel is super and I love that whilst they don’t become best friends Jemima finds a kinship in her ‘special’ group of overweight kids and learns that isn’t alone and she isn’t the only one struggling with the unkindness of others.

I loved the balance of the mystical with the scientific, and how Jemima reluctantly lets go of the science mind to embrace the metaphysical whether or be crystals as a luck talisman or other weird and wonderful things from her Aunt Luna’s world of tarot, auras and magic. I see quite of bit of me in Jemima and I think it’s going to be so wonderful for tweens and teens to pull from this that you can be a little alternative AND nerdy that things are not exclusive, nor does drawing strength from them have to make scientific sense and that you can overcome the darkness inside- if it can speak to me a woman in her 30s then it can do wonders for the young.

The words “FAT CLUB!” came hurling at me across the playground like someone had kicked a football at me. It’s not just the pain of it. The pain you get used to. It’s the embarrassment. And not having anywhere to hide. It’s everyone staring because they all heard it too. Like you’re the most grotesque thing ever. Or like they feel sorry for you. Or they’re waiting for you to say something back… So, I smiled. Well I pretended to smile. You can’t smile for real when you feel so embarrassed you want to cry.

Jemima is uncomfortably realistic as a teenager with low self esteem and low self worth, to be fair as a person with low self esteem and worth. The way that strangers utterances and looks frame the way Jemima carries herself in public and how the bullies make her change the way she acts and even does normal things in school is frighteningly familiar.

{if you don’t want to read about me then scroll to the text after two quotes down- sorry 💜}

I was bullied mercilessly in school & I often think it’s what held me back from achieving further in life. If I had had more faith in my abilities I wonder what I would have had the courage or arrogance to achieve. There are words that sear themselves into your heart, looks that stain your soul and attitudes that reshape your brain. I understand now that I was basically brainwashed in school to hate myself, to reduce the ‘room’ I took up to make way for others and to shut up about my hurts because no one cared and it’s still hard to undo that damage even having photographs of myself now is difficult.

Some kids made fun of the fact I was clever and had a high forehead; one girl who was so systematically nasty she made three teachers have breakdowns and leave, she encouraged others in my form to say ‘Spamhead’ as I walked past or if I said an answer in non-set classes. One boy who my husband still occasionally chats to (same area of work) smacked his palm hard against my forehead screaming ‘Spamhead’ in the corridor in front of everyone and even the class teacher laughed and told me to ‘not take it personally’. But that luckily didn’t last long and it wasn’t anything compared to what my ‘friends’ did.

One girl made me hate my body, called my shape ugly and that I was kidding myself if I thought any boy would be attracted to me, I suffered with disorganised eating for years, scared to eat in front of her because she would criticise what I was eating offended her, or god forbid the manner in which I ate disgusted her, she even made me frightened of making too much sound when I would wee in public toilets, if she heard any noise she would shriek and call me disgusting. Another girl, on a good day told me that my parents were probably ashamed and embarrassed by me and that my parents only told me that they loved me because parents ‘have’ to love their children.

I wasn’t afraid of Lottie. Not in the normal sense. I just got this prickly feeling in my chest anytime she spoke to me. Like being stung by a jellyfish. They have these special cells in their tentacles containing venom that can go through your skin in a matter of milliseconds. Lottie seemed to have them on her tongue.

And they weren’t even the worst things or people. Laura was my Lottie, all the teachers thought she was sweet and perfect, she even made Head Girl and no member of staff believed that someone as wonderful as Laura was making my life a living hell.

When Jemima lies about her maths score to get Lottie off her back I broke and had to go and have a cry in the bathroom- I used to lie about my test scores all the time because I would ‘pay’ for it if I got a better score than her.

I wasn’t even overweight in school, not like I am now but I was vulnerable being bookish, in all the top sets without trying or revising, gentle, innocent and sensitive, probably cosseted and not having a clue of how to deal with ‘girl drama’ before going to secondary school is a red rag to a bull in the brutal Battle Royale Of female adolescence.

“Look, everyone, this class is about having a healthy lifestyle. There is nothing healthy about cutting out vital food groups!”

{review service resumes here apologies 💜}

I have seen criticism levelled at this book regarding the Fat Club and that it’s implying Jemima has everything inside her but she has now got to change her outside to be truly amazing. I don’t think those people read the book properly, Gina who runs the club doesn’t want the kids to starve themselves and go on high intensity exercise regimes.

Actually she wants them to think better about themselves, raise their self worth and educate them on better nutritional and activity choices without being preachy or dictatorial. It’s an incredibly responsible choice by the author to focus it on mindset and choices to make a lifestyle rather than starvation or faddy crash-diets and high intensity exercise

In fact Jemima doesn’t ‘lose’ weight at all across the novel, she bemoans that she won’t lose weight quickly but she achieves everything whilst the same on the outside, this story is about the internal journey that Jemima undertakes to loving herself. Gosh I think there’s many of us who could do with some of that.

Jemima Small difficult to defeat

So yes this was an emotional gut wrench of a read but it was so filled with hope, for the stars to change, for things to get better and so much beauty amidst the ugly thoughts. It’s a must read for every child, to find the fight inside themselves like Jemima does 💜

Jemima Small Versus the Universe by Tamsin Winters is published by Usborne

7 thoughts on “Jemima Small Versus the Universe – Tamsin Winters

  1. This is such a gorgeous review/post Lily, and has made me feel quite teary. I’m so sorry those girls were so vile to you, and I hope the man your husband still speaks to has grown up a bit and at least apologised for the pain he caused you? I also loved this book an awful lot 💜. And you’ll get likely love Being Miss Nobody based on this! It also deals with bullying in a very honest, moving way
    Amy x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you- it was hard post, and it’s the tip of the iceberg really but it is a sort of release to write it down (like they do in the book!). The man turned out to be ok, he was bullied pretty bad himself and he played the clown to make people laugh with instead of at him, so I know where it came from as an adult, but the shame I felt still lingers a bit.
      Loved this book so much, it is a much much needed story 💜💜


  2. Good for you for having the strength now to reflect on and share your own experiences, I’m sorry they were so awful.
    I think this book sounds very well written and indeed very important for many to read, not sure it’d be one for me though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s tough reading especially from my experience and it’s not the kind of book I would have normally picked up, if it weren’t for the reviews like Amy’s. You know contemporary isn’t usually my thing, but this is much more complex and Jemima struggles so much on a whole range of issues not just bullying and weight – it’s a great underdog tale 💜

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yeah, I do get the impression it has more depth than a lot of contemporaries. I think if I didn’t have so many books, especially YA, waiting to be read ASAP I’d have been tempted to try it but realistically I know it would just languish at the bottom of this never ending stack!

      Liked by 1 person

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