Body Issues. Beauty Pageants. And a complicated romance with a boy named Bo. This is what I knew about Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, before I picked it up and it was definitely enough to hook me. What I found in the pages was a whole lot more. As the cover copy will tell you Willowdean is a self-proclaimed fat girl. And believe me she owns that title. When her thin and beauty pageant obsessed mother tries to get her her on fad diets, Willowdean refuses. When people make comments at school, she tells them to go to hell. She refuses to hide behind boring clothes or a quiet personality. She owns her body. So it’s a huge surprise when her crush (Bo!) showing signs of liking her back cracks and crumbles the body positivity she’s built up over a lifetime. The answer? Entering Miss Clover City pageant. This inspires a whole slew of other unlikely candidates and forces Willowdean to think about her body, friendship, and standards of beauty in lots of new and different ways. Oh and there’s a whole lot about Dolly Parton! Did I forget to mention that? And drag queens. And grief when a family member dies. And being jealous of your friends and feeling weird when there’s that weird divide where one friend is more romantically/sexually advanced. And there’s a lot about fashion … and bullying.
See. I told you this book has a lot going on.
What’s great is that all these different themes and occurrences don’t overshadow each other. They just make the characters feel like real people. Because real people rarely are just dealing with one issue at a time. I also really liked the Southern setting and the acknowledgment that most of the characters are growing up in relatively poor households. Once again, this isn’t the only thing about them … but it still colors a lot of the setting/decisions/circumstances that Willowdean and other characters find themselves in.
Above all else, this just felt like the most realistic book I’ve read about an overweight girl in high school and the feelings that accompany that situation. I loved that it wasn’t a book about her gaining confidence through losing weight. The fact that she uses an incredible show of outward confidence to cover up inner insecurities – insecurities she feels guilty for having – this was brilliantly portrayed.
If you can’t tell that I would highly recommend this book, then you probably aren’t reading this blog post carefully. Very excited that his book exists and that it’s finding such a large readership so quickly.