Use these discussion questions to guide your next meeting.


“Darkly hilarious . . . Wildly entertaining.” —The Guardian
Meet Majella O’Neill, a heroine like no other, in this captivating Irish debut that has been called Milkman meets Derry Girls.


Majella is happiest out of the spotlight, away from her neighbors’ stares and the gossips of the small town in Northern Ireland where she grew up just after the Troubles. She lives a quiet life caring for her alcoholic mother, working in the local chip shop, watching the regular customers come and go. She wears the same clothes each day (overalls, too small), has the same dinner each night (fish and chips, microwaved at home after her shift ends), and binge-watches old DVDs of the same show (Dallas, best show on TV) from the comfort of her bed. 
But underneath Majella’s seemingly ordinary life are the facts that she doesn’t know where her father is and that every person in her town has been changed by the lingering divide between Protestants and Catholics. When Majella’s predictable existence is upended by the death of her granny, she comes to realize there may be more to life than the gossips of Aghybogey, the pub, and the chip shop. In fact, there just may be a whole big world outside her small town. 

Told in a highly original voice, with a captivating heroine readers will love and root for, Big Girl, Small Town will appeal to fans of Sally Rooney, Ottessa Moshfegh, and accessible literary fiction with an edge.

This discussion guide was posted in partnership with Algonquin Books.


Did you identify with any of the items on Majella’s lists? Why is her list of things she hates much longer than the list of things she loves?

Majella lives a very frugal, circumscribed life. How do you think money could change things for her?

Majella could be described as “low maintenance.” Despite her relaxed approach to beauty, fashion, and hygiene, she has a healthy sex life. What do you think are the factors at play here?


Big Girl, Small Town

Praise and reviews

“[A] sensational debut . . . Gallen’s effortless immersion into a gritty, endlessly bittersweet world packs a dizzying punch.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An irreverent portrait of small-town Northern Ireland . . . Uproariously funny.”
—Kirkus Reviews
"I loved Majella from the first page. Our relatable heroine jumps off the page like an old friend. Utterly brilliant and deliciously hilarious! With humor, wit and beauty, Gallen subtly unveils a violence and conflict that lies beneath, exploring the legacy of the Troubles and the deeply felt effects through generations."
—Christy Lefteri, author of The Beekeeper of Aleppo

"Fans of Milkman rejoice! Through its keen, immersive focus on the seemingly mundane routines of a Northern Irish town just after the Troubles, Big Girl, Small Town illuminates an enigmatic, violent social ecosystem. When have I read a tougher, more tender protagonist for the ages than Majella? She is an apt, heartbreaking guide through this fierce, raw, unignorable debut."
—Marie-Helene Bertino, author of Parakeet
"Big Girl, Small Town is a darkly funny, big-hearted novel about feeling ordinary in a tumultuous world. Set in Northern Ireland just after the Troubles, this novel is wildly charming, relatable, and downright addicting. Despite a life full of political and personal ruin, heroine Majella O’Neill is an extraordinary force of light fighting to figure it all out. Perfectly delightful and incredibly moving, you won't be able to put this book down." 
—Crissy Van Meter, author of Creatures

“A darkly hilarious novel about small-town life . . . Wildly entertaining.”
The Guardian

“Sinead Moriarty's endorsement 'Milkman meets Derry Girls' is as accurate as you'll get. But Big Girl, Small Town is even funnier than Derry Girls, while being just as fraught as Anna Burns's Booker Prize winner.” 
The Irish Independent
“A confident debut with a very memorable protagonist.”
The Irish Times
Image magazine (One of 8 “Must Reads” of 2020)
“Bawdy yet beautiful . . . I grew extraordinarily attached to Majella.”
Sara Baume, author of A Line Made by Walking

“A thrillingly fresh, provocative and touching voice.”
Marian Keyes, bestselling author of Grown Ups
“It's the humour, dry and gritty, that sets Big Girl, Small Town apart . . . to think that this is Michelle Gallen's debut is astonishing, as Majella's narration is bold and assured . . . evocative, caustic and compelling.”
Sunday Business Post
“A winning evocation of a small Irish community whose people burst from its pages. Engaging and satisfying.”
Daily Mail
Irish Examiner
“Darkly funny.”
Mail on Sunday
“Gallen's debut deserves comparisons with Anna Burns' Milkman for its depiction of the impact of the Troubles on a vulnerable young woman, but this terrifically imagined tender black comedy is very much its own book."
“Charming . . . there is an easy warmth to Big Girl, Small Town.
Sunday Times
Milkman meets Derry Girls. A cracking read.”
Sinead Moriarty, bestselling author of Seven Letters