Charles de Lint is one of my favorite authors, there ever, cure and he’s practically the only name anymore on the ‘auto-buy’ list. Every few years he writes a YA fantasy novel, and Little (Grrl) Lost is the latest submission. This book is based on a short story he wrote, by the same name, originally published in the Firebirds Rising anthology. The story forms the first chapter of the book.
T.J. and her family just moved into a suburban, all-houses-alike subdivision near Newford (de Lint’s imaginary but very large city), somewhat before her fifteenth birthday. They used to live on a farm, but economic times being what they were, they were forced to sell; her mother took a job at a hospital in town. To make matters worse for T.J., they also sold her horse, Red. Now, she’s stuck at a high school with people she doesn’t know, who talk about things she doesn’t care about, and she doesn’t even have a horse. Her brother, Derek, is doing just fine, of course.
One night, T.J. hears a lot of strange scratchings from inside the walls of her bedroom. She’s even more surprised when she leans closer to the wall and hears – voices? A few minutes later, a punky, sixteen-year-old girl walks out of a door in her wall, carrying a duffel bag and yelling that she’s running away. That’s odd enough, but the punky girl is six inches tall.
This opens T.J. up to a world she never knew existed: Littles. (T.J., her family, and the rest of us are called ‘Bigs’.) In looking for more information about Littles, T.J. and Elizabeth (the Little) come across an author named Sheri Piper, who’s written some eerily accurate fiction about the Littles, and how they used to be birds but lost their wings. Sheri Piper is, luckily, a local author, and is doing a book reading and signing at a local Barnes and Noble. T.J. and Elizabeth set off for the store, Elizabeth in T.J.’s backpack. T.J. gets mugged, alas, while in transit, and they become separated.
However, the story isn’t based on just one short story, but two. The other short story is “Big City Littles”, from his collection Tapping the Dream Tree. I’d read the story, some years ago, and while I was reading Little (Grrl) Lost, I had this sneaking suspicion that I knew some of the ideas and some of the characters. I’ll even go so far as to say that the novel makes less sense without knowing the other story. There’s one plot element that sounds a little ridiculous in the novel but made more sense in “Big City Littles”. It’s a bit harder to suspend disbelief over this one element if you haven’t been exposed to it before (or if you could barely remember it from the last time you were exposed to it).
De Lint’s writing style is very conversational, with elements of folk tales and mythology. He does switch points of view, from the tight-third-person of T.J. to a first-person with Elizabeth, but readers familiar with de Lint’s other novels will be expecting that.
His characters are interesting, especially T.J. De Lint rarely writes about good but boring girls, and T.J. starts out that way. She’s not his usual petite, fey artist – she’s normal, other than having been a farm girl for the first fourteen years of her life. Although she’s a little naïve and trustful, she’s not stupid. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is more like his usual characters. She’s the obvious “(Grrl)” of the title, complete with knife and plaid skirt. Prior de Lint readers will be expecting characters more like her. The minor characters are as varied as their species and names — I won’t give examples, in order not to give plot away, but they’re quite amusing.
It’s not a perfect book — some things felt a little rushed to me — but it’s quite enjoyable. He makes interesting points about fitting in and finding one’s place. I’d recommend tracking down “Big City Littles” before reading this, but it can obviously be read either way. I don’t know what the reaction of someone who hadn’t read the story really would be, but having read it I’ll give Little (Grrl) Lost 4/5 stars.