Title: Dumplin’, Go Big or Go Home
Written by: Julie Murphy
Published by: Balzer & Bray, 2015
Themes: Overweight people, bullying, self acceptance, beauty pageants, diversity, friendship, high school dating, Texas
All the best things in my life have started with a Dolly Parton song. Including my friendship with Ellen Dryver.
Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.
Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.
Why I like this book:
This is a world that I am familiar and unfamiliar with. I am familiar with struggles around food and identity; my childhood was far, far removed from small town Texas and beauty pageants. But how quickly and profoundly I felt immersed in Clover City, Willowdean’s world and the annual beauty pageant around which this community revolved. The characters in this cracking debut novel are as rounded as they could be (pun intended). The cast is diverse, quirky, believable, flawed and endearing. I found myself rooting not just for Willowdean and her pursuit of self acceptance, but also for the Bo and Mitch, the two boys vying for her attention and the group of misfits she pulls into the pageant with her. I feel for Willowdean’s relationship with her dead aunt Lucy, whose morbid obesity provoked the heart attack. I feel for the caring queens at the drag bar and what they’ve fought through for their identity. There are so many characters in this story and yet Julie Murphy invests them with so much humanity that as a reader from such a different world, I found myself identifying with something in each of them, even Willowdean’s skinny Mom and former pageant queen, who longs for the relationship with her daughter that her sister had.
The title, subtitle and opening lines pack a punch and a promise, which are more than fulfilled as Willowdean’s story unravels. The internal struggle of this large, beautiful teen, Willowdean, will, I am certain, bring hope and faith to many teens and their/our normal self-identity struggles. She is in the perfect fat girl. I love her moment of self focus toward the end when new friend, Hannah, pulls her out of her self pity.
“Low blow. Yeah, I can keep my mouth shut. Until I have something to say. You try being the half Dominican lesbian with buckteeth in this town, okay?”
Both of the boys in this book are keepers. Bo with his cherry stained lips and all round good guy, Mitch. Both sincerely loved Willowdean. I love how the author does not focus directly on the love triangle or even the romance with these guys. This book is clearly about more than teenage love. It is about learning to love yourself and learning that you are deserving of love from others. It has universal appeal and utterly empowering. I would recommend it to guys and girls, northerners and southerners, skinny and large, teens and adults. It packs a tremendously positive punch. With southern Texas charm, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton’s Jolene, drag bars, and a kickass heroine—Dumplin’ is a showstopper!
“I’m fat. It’s not a cuss word. It’s not an insult. At least it’s not when I say it.”
- Author’s website: http://juliemurphywrites.com/
- I’d recommend a paired reading with: FAT ANGIE by e e Charlton-Trujillo