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The Tiny One Reader’s Guide

By Eliza Minot

The Tiny One by Eliza Minot


"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.


When eight-year-old Via Revere is called from math class one February afternoon, she imagines a surprise of some sort. Yet the reason for the day’s disruption is a sobering one: Via’s mother has been killed in a car accident. The following morning, the little girl awakens to a world utterly changed by her loss. Cast into the anguish of grief, bewildered by her mother’s disappearance, utterly mystified by the notion of death itself, Via holds onto her mother in the only way she knows how: by relaying, in excruciating detail, the day her mother died.

The Tiny One is a single day captured: the twenty-four hours preceeding the event that will change the course of Via’s life–and the memories of a mother suddenly, unimaginably absent. Here is the art class that triggers memories of clamming in Maine; the history lesson that brings back a special day in the city. And here are the unremarkable moments of family life that become, in death’s aftermath, breathtakingly poignant: the simple pleasure of climbing into bed with sleeping parents, battles and bonds with siblings, chats with a wise and caring neighbor, and private discoveries about the self, the body, the world at large.

Praised for its clarity, sensitivity, and startlingly accurate depiction of a young and tender heart, The Tiny One introduces a narrator with much to teach us all. For in Via, Eliza Minot has captured, in its most powerful essence, the innate wisdom of children. Here is a little girl whose experience with death delivers her, instinctively, to what remains: love, life, and the joy of memory.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

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 her mother’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?

About this Author

Eliza Minot was born in Beverly, Massachusetts. She lives in New York with her husband. The Tiny One is her first novel.

Suggested Reading

Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye; Richard Ford, Wildlife; Kaye Gibbons, Ellen Foster; Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird; William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow; Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding; Susan Minot, Monkeys and Evening; Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye; Lorrie Moore, Self-Help: Stories; Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
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