Ramona Blue, by Julie Murphy

Ramona BlueI took a YA lit class in grad school with David Levithan. One of the first things he said was to make the details in our writing as specific as possible. More detailed. More specific examples. These were two phrases, I became accustomed to seeing on my personal essays. It’s one of the lessons that I try to keep in the very front of my brain while writing. It’s also a lesson that no one needs to teach Julie Murphy, apparently. Because Damn! Ramona Blue, the latest book from the author who brought us Dumplin’ and Side Effects May Vary, is one of the most specific, detailed, and unique books I’ve ever read.

As with people in real life, Ramona’s history looms large over her present struggles. She was a small child when Hurricane Katrina dramatically changed her family. She’s been a kind of surrogate parent to her little sister, who is now pregnant. She likes girls. She wants to leave town, but doesn’t know if she can now that her sister needs her more than ever. Continue reading

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

18304322Body 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. Continue reading