Books: Cultural History
The World’s Tallest Woman: The Giantess of Shelbyville High
Rita Rose met Sandy Allen in 1977, when Sandy was already the record-holder in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the tallest woman alive. She stood at 7 feet 7 and ¾ inches tall, while Rita was 5 feet 4. Rita, a young journalist, wished to interview Sandy for a magazine story.
That interview, aimed at sensitively chronicling the life of a person beyond the norm in a society that often misunderstands unusual persons, became the beginning of a thirty-year friendship. For years Rita encouraged Sandy as she scorned the life of a circus performer, choosing instead to redeem the bad years by speaking to school students on the subject of tolerance.
This unusual friendship has found expression in a new book from Hawthorne Publishing, a book Sandy reviewed and enthusiastically endorsed just before her death in August of ’08. Rita’s World’s Tallest Woman: The Giantess of Shelbyville High tells a story rich in meaning for all ages. It is a thinly fictionalized account of Sandy’s real years at the high school, home of the Golden Bears, in the town in which she grew up.
Students who mocked her, shouting “Jolly Green Giant,” injuries caused by her condition, which eventually kept her off the basketball team she loved, and troubles at home are all chronicled. But so are the accomplishments of a young girl who was a fine scholar, graduating with honors, a member of school service groups, and a friend to those who could share the unusual friendship of someone who wore a size 22EEE shoe and ducked down through doorways when entering rooms.
Shelbyville, Indiana, as a small town with a heart which eventually expanded to embrace and show pride in its most famous citizen, is depicted realistically and with respect. This heartwarming book is a page-turner which will be enjoyed by young and old alike.