Huge is set in a 1980’s Central New Jersey suburban town, where twelve-year-old Eugene “Huge” Smalls lives with his mother and his sister Eunice “Neecey.” Huge is extremely intelligent; in fact, his IQ score is surprisingly high. Yet, he’s always had difficulty getting along socially. He has problems controlling his anger and has gotten in trouble more than once because of it. He doesn’t have a lot of friends and he’s small for his age, so he’s often been the target of bullies. One of Huge’s real interests is the classic crime stories of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Arthur Conan Doyle that his grandmother gave him to read. He’s intrigued with the idea of being a detective and in fact, he wants to have his own detective agency.
Huge gets his chance to take a real case one hot August day when he visits his grandmother in the retirement home where she lives. She tells him that the sign identifying the home has been vandalized, and offers him ten dollars to find out who’s responsible. Huge is eager to take on the case, not only because of his attachment to his grandmother, but also because he wants the chance to prove himself. So he agrees and begins his investigation.
The most appealing suspect is Neecey’s friend Darren, whom Huge has never really trusted. Darren and his friends have a habit of tagging – using spray paint to mark signs, walls, and other places – and Huge is certain that Darren’s group struck again at the retirement home. Fairly soon, though, Darren makes it clear that he wasn’t responsible. Huge doesn’t entirely believe him, but he does begin to look for other suspects. He follows clues and slowly puts the pieces together and, although he makes several “wrong turns,” he does find out in the end who defaced the sign. In the process of his investigation, Huge also makes several discoveries about himself.
One of the most important elements in this novel is the character of Huge himself. The story is told from his point of view, so we see the world through his eyes. In some ways, he’s not particularly appealing. He’s immature, as most twelve-year-old are, and he’s got a habit of blaming others for his problems and of thinking the worst of them. He’s also not good at listening to or taking advice from people and he tends to jump to conclusions – sometimes the wrong ones. He speaks his mind in what’s sometimes a very tactless way, too. On the other hand, he’s extremely intelligent and has a gift for getting right to the point. He’s also gutsy and determined. He has all sorts of mishaps along the way, but he doesn’t give up as he tries to catch the culprit. He takes on teenagers bigger and stronger than he is, too. And if you’ve ever imagined yourself as a detective, finding clues and “on the hunt” for the culprit, it’s easy to cheer for Huge as he gets closer to the truth.
Many of the characters in the novel are teenagers, so there are also doses of teen angst, first crushes, experimenting with drugs and drinking, gossip and 1980’s “teenspeak:” For instance, here’s what Neecey says to her friend Cynthia about an upcoming party:
“‘Did I get the stuff? C’mon, Cyn, you know I got the stuff. Darren would have a total seizure if I didn’t. He’d be all ‘Dude’ – Neecey made her voice gravelly and slow – ‘this is so not a righteous party without the stuff.’ Omigod,” Neecey laughed, ‘I’d be so cut off.”
Another distinctive feature in Huge is the setting. The action takes place mostly in the working-class section of a suburban town in a time before mobile ‘phones, wireless Internet access or DVRs, and Fuerst evokes that era in subtle ways. For instance, at one point, Neecy is on the ‘phone with a friend:
“She [Neecey] had a habit of walking in a out of the kitchen while she was on the phone, twisting herself in circles so that the cord wrapped around her waist, which was probably what she was doing.”
Fuerst also places the reader in the suburban town:
“All of this was crammed together on one measly avenue that ran east to west and was only remarkable for its ability to look rundown and barren in both directions… On it were the appliece store, the hardware store, the gas station, a sued-car dealership, a supermarket, a Carvel ice cream shop, a roller skating rink, the grimiest diner on the planet, a packaged-goods store, which meant they sold liquor after hours, and a juice bar…”
As Huge travels around town on his bicycle the Cruiser, we go along to the local mall, the school, the swim club and the “only decent pizza parlor in town.”
Against this setting, the mystery of what happened to the sign plays out. The solution is credible, and in fact, makes sense under the circumstances. But it’s not obvious and Huge makes more than one mistake as he goes on the trail of the culprit. Although it’s by no means as high-stakes a mystery as finding a killer, Huge takes his charge very seriously, and because of that, we do, too.
Huge doesn’t have good social skills, and he gets into arguments with his sister like most siblings do. And like most young people, he’s not too happy about chores, house rules and so on. And yet, throughout the novel it’s very clear that the Smalls family is a close one. Huge and Neecey look out for each other and “cover” for each other. They might not exactly obey their mother, but they do love and respect her. Their mother loves them both very much and takes care of them the best she can, considering she has to hold down two jobs to make ends meet. Huge’s grandmother is an important part of this family unit, too. In fact, it’s her concern for Huge and her interest in him that motivates her to “hire” him in the first place, and whenever Huge visits her, it’s easy to see that he’s devoted to her in his own twelve-year-old way.
Huge is a unique kind of mystery story set against a rad ;-) nostalgic look at 1980’s East Coast suburbia. It’s also a look at teenage life and shows us the world through teen eyes. But what’s your view? Have you read Huge? If you have, what elements do you see in it?