I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
Also by this author: Ramona Blue
Published by Balzer + Bray on September 15th 2015
Pages: 384 •Goodreads
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.With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine— Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.
I guess sometimes the perfection we perceive in others is made up of a whole bunch of tiny imperfections, because some days the damn dress just won’t zip.
Dumplin’ is a book that completely took me by surprise this summer. I found out it was being signed at ALA and, despite the fact that YA contemporary isn’t always what I reach for first, found myself drawn to it. The simple cover, the tongue in cheek tagline (Go Big or Go Home)…I had a feeling Dumplin’ was going to be a hot mess or utter YA perfection. I need not have worried, as Dumplin’ has been one of the strongest, if not the strongest, YA contemporary I’ve read to date to be released in 2015.
I was initially worried that Dumplin’ was going to serve as a generic YA makeover tale where the heavier protagonist goes from swan to ugly duckling thanks to a beauty pageant. Or else it was going to be a morality tale on bullying people about their appearance and everyone comes to accept Willowdean in the end (not that a story like that isn’t something to be aspired to, but it’s not very realistic). Dumplin’ is none of those things; it’s truly at its foundation a coming of age tale with a huge dose of reality. The novel drives home the idea that self-confidence doesn’t make one impervious to vulnerability, that weight and beauty aren’t mutually exclusive, and that not everyone is going to be likeable all the time (or heck, most of the time). Rather, life happens and sometimes people and circumstances suck (there’s no other word for it), but it’s those small, individual acts of acceptance, of courage, and of self-awareness that make up someone’s life, rather than one big grand gesture that happens perfectly and irrevocably changes everything.
Sometimes figuring out who you are means understanding that we are a mosaic of experiences. I’m Dumplin’. And Will and Willowdean. I’m fat. I’m happy. I’m insecure. I’m bold. -pg 371
Willowdean’s story resonates with readers because it’s about so many firsts that come about in high school: first kisses, first boyfriends, first dates, first fights with best friends, and first times you push yourself out of your comfort zone. Willowdean, like so many other teenagers, encounters all of these experiences with a constant layer of insecurity that blankets every experience. With Willowdean it’s her weight, but it just as well be a lisp, a nervous tick, a limp- anything that would make one feel like an outliar in the microcosm of high school. While the novel itself focuses mainly on self-empowerment and rejecting the notion of fat-shaming, Willowdean is not immune to being self-conscious and self-doubting despite her confidence and good sense of humor. This made the narrative feel incredibly realistic and complex, as readers aren’t thrust into a situation where the protagonist sheds all insecurities after one moment of “enlightenment.” Growing up and accepting yourself is a process that goes far beyond the teen years, and I think Julie Murphy did a wonderful job portraying how difficult the struggle is while also sending an overall positive message. While Willowdean may have moments of insecurity, she never feels the need to change or tries to change for the sake of others.
All my life, I’ve had a body worth commenting on and if living in my skin has taught me anything it’s that if it’s not your body, it’s not yours to comment on. -pg 33
The supporting cast of characters really added to Willowdean’s story and felt fleshed out without being caricatures. Everyone in this book is a normal yet flawed person (there’s no over the top quirkiness or outliers; they’re just average teens struggling with different issues in a small town, which I appreciated. No over the top drama or extreme circumstances here). Yet these characters are not defined by the one thing that’s emphasized for the sake of plot, and they don’t feel like they’re written just to have their differences and/or disabilities highlighted in the pageant for the purpose of implementing a moral message. Take Willowdean, for example. Sure, there’s a lot of reference to her weight, but at times I just completely forgot about that aspect of her character in favor of other elements that stood out just as strongly: her sass, her wit, her feminist principles, etc. These characters don’t feel essentialized by their physical characteristics.
What I also enjoyed about Dumplin’ were the complex family dynamics, especially in the mother-daughter relationship between Willowdean and her mother. Willowdean’s mother is a former pageant winner, and hasn’t been able to let go of her glory days. You can tell she loves Willowdean dearly, but there’s always subtle critiques she’s giving to Willowdean about her weight, and a deep rooted animosity toward each other for the way they prioritize certain things, especially looks. I appreciated the subtle dynamics in their relationship that danced on that fine line between love and hate, and how you can share a close bond with a family member while still having issues seeing eye to eye with that person.
The only teeny, tiny complaint I have about this book is that the ending felt a bit incomplete. I actually had to double check that my copy wasn’t missing pages, because it felt so abrupt.
Overall: Dumplin’ was a standout amongst all of the ARCs I received at ALA this year. It has sass, promotes feminist values without hitting you over the head with them, and was able to give a message about self-acceptance and positive body image without feeling cheesy. The pageant element of the plot didn’t eclipse the story, and much of it was focused on ordinary people dealing with human issues of self esteem, acceptance, and even grief. There’s so much sass and heart in this book, and it manages to deliver a message of body positivity, self-acceptance, and not letting others define oneself without neglecting the hardships of achieving those goals. Dumplin’ is a standout in the YA Contemporary genre for 2015, and you won’t regret reading it.
*Please note that all quotes are taken from an ARC and could be subject to change in the finished copy
Book Buddies Ask:
“Book Buddies Ask” is a feature I do with my Book Buddy Lauren from Bookmarklit! While we do an in-depth buddy read every-other month, we decided it would be fun to ask fun little questions for other books we read together more casually! These questions are inspired by fun little elements from the book!
Have you ever done anything you were scared of to prove something to yourself?
The first thing that comes to mind is sort of a silly example, but when I was 12 or 13 The Hollywood Tower of Terror had just opened at Disney’s California Adventure. Though I had never been on a “thrill ride” before, I forced myself to go on it because I wanted to prove I had done it, and prove I was “mature.” (I was terrified and may or may not have tried bailing at the last minute, but thanks to my Dad I followed through with it and loved it). As an adult, I find myself placed in new situations every day where I could easily shy away from, as they’re unfamiliar or daunting, from starting new jobs to taking on new personal responsibilities. I find myself leaping into these opportunities to prove to myself that I do have the skill set to succeed, and it’s the most wonderful, rewarding feeling to discover my talents lie beyond what I ever thought I was capable of as I venture out in my own in life!
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Goodreads Challenge