ARC Review: Mammoth by Jill Baguchinsky

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The summer before her junior year, paleontology geek Natalie Page lands a coveted internship at an Ice Age dig site near Austin. Natalie, who’s also a plus-size fashion blogger, depends on the retro style she developed to shield herself from her former bullies, but vintage dresses and perfect lipstick aren’t compatible with prospecting for fossils in the Texas heat. But nothing is going to dampen Natalie’s spirit — she’s exactly where she wants to be, and she gets to work with her hero, a rock-star paleontologist who hosts the most popular paleo podcast in the world. And then there’s Chase the intern, who’s seriously cute, and Cody, a local boy who’d be even cuter if he were less of a grouch.

It’s a summer that promises to be about more than just mammoths.

Until it isn’t.

When Natalie’s hero turns out to be anything but, and steals the credit for one of her accomplishments, Nat has to unearth the confidence she needs to stand out in a field dominated by dudes. To do this, she’ll have to let her true self shine, even if that means defying all the rules for the sake of a major discovery.

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I can’t describe how happy I was when I got approved for this ARC (which also happens to be my first one from Edelweiss+), because it’s not everyday that we get plus size or science nerd heroines in YA, and this book had one who is both while also being a fashion blogger. It’s such a unique combination and I had high hopes from it, and I am so glad to say that this didn’t disappoint.

Natalie is a paleo geek who is very passionate about prehistoric animals and is quite excited about spending her summer at a mammoth dig in Austin. Also encouraged by her eccentric Aunt, she is quite proficient at designing and making her own clothes and it was actually fun to see her Look of the Day pictures on the blog at the beginning of each chapter. It gives us a sense of her style and how much time she actually spends dressing up everyday.

However, on digging deeper we realise that she uses all of this as an armor to protect herself from the online trolls or any other horrible comments that are thrown her way due to her size. She has lots of issues at the beginning of the book – she doesn’t like eating in front of other people and ends up starving herself sometimes, she has this habit of guessing every woman’s weight, she keeps snapping her bracelet on her wrist which hurts her just to keep herself from getting drowned out by her thoughts. However, through the progression of the story, we see her become more confident about herself, let go of some of the self-loathing that she feels and also feel less need of the armor that she is so used to having as a facade.

There are a host of interesting side characters here and it was a fun gang to read about. Quinn is tired of being ignored by her rockstar paleontologist father and always trying to seek his approval, even if she goes about it in the wrong ways. Chase is the cute intern who treats Natalie well and she falls for his charms but not everything is as it seems. Mellie is the quirky senior intern whose mouth runs a million miles a second but she is also very supportive and a great friend. Cody is a slightly grouchy guy who works at the museum, but once Nat gets to know him and he realises how passionate she is about the work, they become friends and I really enjoyed their banter.

I loved the writing style in the book. It’s very easy flowing, relatable and charming and I finished it in just a few hours. But the author manages to tell a fun and entertaining story while also touching on issues like fatphobia, self esteem, sexism in the scientific fields, the dichotomy of ambition vs recklessness and the importance of more women in STEM. And when Natalie takes multiple bad decisions but with good intent, the author shows us that actions have consequences, despite the reasons for committing them. I really liked the development of Natalie towards the end, realizing that her passion should not override good judgement and it gives her a chance to self-reflect. I also loved the depiction of consent, how a woman is allowed to change her mind while she is kissing someone and how being attracted to a person doesn’t mean their bad behavior needs to be excused. I really liked how the author was able to shed light on all these issues while never being preachy about it and keeping it all very lighthearted.

If you love reading YA contemporaries with interesting female characters, then I highly recommend this one. If you want to satisfy your inner nerd and read about a STEM heroine who happens to be a plus size fashionista, then go right ahead and pick this up because we don’t get enough of them and this book deserves the love.

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PS: Thank you to Edelweiss and Turner Publishing for providing me this advance review copy. All the opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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