Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy
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.
This book has been getting ALL THE HYPE for months, so I was really excited to finally pick up a copy and get started. While I didn’t fall in love with it the way I did the last super-hyped book I read, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, I enjoyed it!
Willowdean is “fat” and proud. Her weight is never stated – according to Julie Murphy, “It is not up to me to define fat“, and I think that was smart move on her part. Her journey through the book is more about letting one’s inner beauty shine instead of feeling pressured to look a certain way.
The synopsis and pretty much every other promotion surrounding this book has played up the beauty pageant angle. Yes, it’s important; yes, Will isn’t your average contestant so her entering throws people for a loop; yes, it drives the plot along…But she doesn’t even enter the pageant until halfway through the book. So don’t hold your breath waiting for it.
The first half of the book deals mostly with Will and Bo’s relationship. They were cute, if a little abrupt (both the starting and the ending of their relationship), and I was rooting for them. I was not, however, expecting a minor love triangle. It’s not obnoxious, but I don’t know how necessary it was. I’d have actually preferred a more nuanced look at Will/Bo, scenes where they opened up to each other, rather than skirting around the issue (Will feeling insecure because he’s super good-looking).
It’s very much a character-driven novel: stuff happens, but it takes a while for things to actually start. The plot mostly revolves around Willowdean’s thoughts and insecurities, which, while interesting, can drag the story down a little, especially when we all, including Will herself, know that she’s being melodramatic (i.e. yelling at her pretty bff Ellen for entering the pageant too). She is, to a certain extent, a role model for those of us who aren’t a size two, as she is comfortable in her own skin and is determined to not let her insecurities stop her from doing what she thinks is necessary.
Sometimes figuring out who you are means understanding that we are a mosaic of experiences.