I received this galley in consideration for an honest review.Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
Published by Harper Collins on September 15, 2015
Genres: Young Adult
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.
There is something about Willowdean’s confidence in who she is (smart, hardworking, funny) and who she is not (defined by her dress size or any other physical characteristic) that made me wish I was more like her in almost every way. I think that is the magic of this book, that you are 100% invested in Willowdean’s awesomeness from the get-go and it makes you want to do better and be better for yourself. It’s not as if she doesn’t have to face bullies, which she does, or dodge the comments of “concerned” people, she just chooses not to let it change how she sees herself. Her relationship with her mother is complicated because her mother’s relationship with herself is complicated. They dance around the fact that Will’s mom represents the physical and emotional antithesis of everything that Willowdean is, while the grief over the death of Will’s aunt sits between them. Their relationship is not easy, but her mother is not some diet crazy body Nazi. Instead, she was written with beautiful sensitivity showing her as a whole person, avoiding the dreaded two dimensional parent syndrome. The romance in this book is sweet and Bo’s interest in Willowdean brings forth feeling that she didn’t really want to confront, namely that Bo made her feel less confident. Even so, she was unwilling to accept anything less than exactly what she wanted out of a relationship, which was just one more reason to love Willowdean. The beauty pageant story line was a vehicle for so much great interaction with people outside of Will’s usual circle of friends. I loved her gang of contestants and their adventures, which may or may not have involved a trip to a drag show.
I always notice female friendships in YA books, I think because there were more friendships than romantic relationships in my high school years. Willowdean and her best friend, Ellie, are a great team. I loved the way they supported each other, and the way they called each other out when it was necessary. Most of all, I loved that they could have conflict because that is what happens when you are going through a lot of change, and something about the way Willowdean and Ellie evolve throughout the book showed the love and pain that so often intertwines in close friendships. Julie Murphy also captured, with pitch perfect execution, what it is like to be a teenager in a small Texas town. This is one of those things that would be so hard to communicate without having experienced it, but I am here to tell you that everything from the homecoming mums to the social strata was dead on. It’s been longer than I’d care to admit since I was in high school, but this brought so much back to me. Everything about Dumplin’ was amazing. I really don’t have a more eloquent way of saying it. It’s one of those books that turns me into a book evangelist, pushing it into people’s hands and spreading the good news about its great story and even greater heart. Don’t go to bed tonight without putting this book on your reading list.