Via Mahoney Revere is eight years old when her mother is killed in a car accident. Confused by anguish, bewildered by her mother's absence, and mystified by the notion of death itself, Via retells the day of her mother's death in minute detail, trying to discern the crack in the world through which her mother must have slipped. She takes us through the seemingly ordinary moments of her day, from a cold-cereal breakfast to math class, when she is called to the principal's office to hear the news. Every small event of the tragic day calls up earlier memories from Via's young life, resulting in a beautifully patterned portrait of a comfortable childhood guarded by a warm and loving mother. Via attempts to grasp "how something so big could fit into such a little thing as a day."
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ONE: Staying with Puddle
Via Revere. She's just a kid in the morning except that she's sitting still on her bed in the thick of far-gone winter with her mouth parted open like a grown woman's in thought. Life's got her for the first time pinned up against a wall, openmouthed. But other than her mouth, and her stillness, the rest of her's pure kid, but stunned. She's slouched and static, puffy-eyed, staring at the rug where it meets the wood floor. She's sitting waiting, lopsided, dumbstruck, not even thinking yet what to think.
Her mother would have put her in the gray flannel or Black Watch plaid dress. Instead Via's wearing an Easter dress that curdles, but nicely, with the raw winter surrounding her. Its white cotton is springlike, clean and pleated, cool over her dark wool tights. Lavender smocking is embroidered across her chest, and her young fresh head grows up out of the starched scalloped collar that petals at the neck. Her hair's got so much static that she can feel it clinging silky to her cheek, buzzing, tickling at the side of her chapped mouth.
One of the cats jumps up beside her and arches to rub along her arm. She pats it without looking at it and with her electricity gives it a little shock so the kitty twitches its whiskers but keeps purring. Via twitches too, her eye, but keeps staring.
She's just a kid and it's morning but nothing's the same. Everything's different now. She's at the beginning of a new chapter. She's perched at the edge of a new era. Grief has been born boring into her soft ripe life full of cartwheels and digging with sticks, leaves and laughter, sky and light, her mother's face and jumps in the air. Grief's been injected like a strange sedative that has the opposite effect -- it wakes you up. It's jarred her like shaking her shoulders. It has her. The grizzle of life has rattled her numb. It's like she's been whacked in the head out of laughter and now she sits alone on her bed, looking out, in awe at anything, in awe at everything, stunned.
Hearing the news is like this: The day was like other days and then it happened. Then the news came like those film clips where huge buildings sway gracefully to the ground like someone's sucking them down with a vacuum. It's a whirl of air. It's a night of movement with billowing as the darkness is go everything go, everything moves, disheveled and alive, rushing with sound. Then suddenly it is silent. It's like the sound has been turned off but you're watching a storm. The trees bend like slingshots and the leaves tornado up into the air. Where is the sound? And then it is over.
Then it is over and it's morning. You've heard the news. You'd almost rather hear it again -- fresh -- than begin a life with what you know now. It is morning. It is a morning when everything is hit white-yellow and windows of buildings shine in dull flashes. The windshields of slowly moving cars turn weak sun in your eyes. You wince. You feel like a fever that's petrified.
It's her older sister Marly's voice in the door behind her. "You ready?"
Then it's her father. "All set?"
They're in the door together but Via doesn't want to turn around to see.
Marly comes and sits beside her. "All set?" she says, like her father just did.
Via nods. She pats the cat Puddle and listens to the purring. "She's purring," Via says.
"Come on," says Marly, nudging her. Marly heads toward the bureau. "I'll get you a sweater."
"No," says Via.
"You'll freeze, V."
"I don't think I will."
"Well you think wrong," says Marly. "Look at it out there."
Via looks up from the floor to look out the window. She doesn't remember yesterday. Today looks like it's trying to snow.
"I want to stay here with Puddle," Via says.
Marly goes over to her. Marly squats down and looks at her little sister in the eye. "You want to stay with Puddle?" Marly asks her.
"It's not time to go yet," says Marly. "Want me to come get you when it's time to go?"
Via nods again. "Yeah," she says. She's patting Puddle.
Marly kisses Via's forehead as she's standing up. "We'll all be right downstairs if you want to come down," Marly tells her. "Okay?"
" 'Kay," says Via.
When Marly leaves, Via looks back up out the window while she listens to Puddle purr. It's as white as can be out there. Only the rattly knuckled trees are dark and still against the icy snow that's beneath them and behind them. Above the world is the long white sky, open and bare.
Table of Contents
|Part I||Home is Where this House is|
|1||Staying with Puddle||3|
|5||The Bus Stop||51|
|8||10:00 Art Class||94|
|9||History with Mr. Waring||106|
|15||A Special Assembly||182|
Reading Group Guide
1. Given the subject matter, one might assume The Tiny One to be a dark book indeed. Yet Minot's novel teems with joy, and leaves the reader uplifted. How does the author accomplish this effect?
2. Charlotte Brontë once wrote: "Children can feel, but they cannot analyze their feelings." How does The Tiny One support this idea? How does it defy it?
3. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of The Tiny One is Eliza Minot's uncanny rendering of a childhood. With breathtaking accuracy, she evokes Via's fascination with the human body; her daily experience of profound heartbreak, confusion, and joy; the random surges of energy; her unabashed love for her family. Of Via's many thoughts and feelings, which are the most startling?
4. Why do you suppose the first and one of the last chapters of the book are told in the third person, whereas all of the information in between is told directly from Via's point of view? How does this technique affect the experience of the story?
5. A review of The Tiny One described Minot as having "a sorceress's ability to perceive the emotional spirits trapped in nature"(Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times). How does Via's experience of the natural world restore her connection to her mother?
6. Via's family is a large and loving one, from her brothers Cy and Pete to the seven Revere cats. Though The Tiny One focuses on Via's experience, we are privy to other family members' grief, particularly in the beginning and end of the novel. How does Via respond to her father's pain? To her sister Marly's? How does the family respond to Via as she grapples with hermother's death?
7. Via's thoughts lead her to recollect earlier experiences with death (the discovery of Cinder on the train tracks) and with illness (Mr. Emerson's sickness). How do these memories help her to understand the loss of her mother?
8. Perhaps the greatest--and most lasting--gift a parent offers a child is the knowledge that he or she is wonderfully unique. How does Mum make Via feel special? How does the act of remembering these moments keep Mum "alive"?
9. In a conversation with her mother about saints, Via asks whether or not Jesus is a saint. When Mum responds, "He's the son of God, " Via presses the point, and is asked by her mother to find out at Sunday school. Why is it important for Via to remember this story?
10. Eliza Minot presents the actual moment that Via learns of her mother's death in chapter eighteen. Why does she choose the end of the novel for this scene?
11. Like all children, Via Revere observes the world in all its less flattering moments. With humor and frightening accuracy, she describes a teacher's bad breath, the static electricity fuzzing a fellow student's hair "like tentacles of a sea animal." How does Minot's depiction of this wonder add to the book's realism? How does it lend the material a life-affirming effect?
12. "Things look farther now, " says Via. "I don't feel like myself but at the same time I feel like me. I'm older now." The death of a parent is one of the most transformative events of an individual's life--whether the bereaved is a child or an adult. How cognizant of this fact is Via at the beginning of the novel? At the end?
"A remarkable work of recollection and imagination." The Boston Globe
The Tiny One is Eliza Minot's poetic evocation of a bright and sensitive little girl coming to terms with the tragic death of a parent. More than a portrait of grief, Minot's book is an exquisite rendering of the power of love to comfort and restore us in our darkest hours.
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of The Tiny One. We hope this guide provides you with new ways of looking at and talking about this poignant and expertly written debut novel.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Very well-written with much thought and detail. It's hard to imagine how an adult can write the thoughts, feelings and impressions of a child and make it seem so realistic.
This is one of very few books that I could not force myself to finish. Although the childlike language occasionally made me feel nostalgic or sentimental, the book just didn't go anywhere. The plot seems like it was also designed by a child; meandering and dull. I would have been interested if the incident with Via's mother was actually delved into, instead of briefly mentioned and skipped over.