Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
Genre: Young Adult
When I first heard about this book, I was skeptical that it was something I’d be interested in. It’s a straightforward young adult contemporary, which is usually a genre I’m not all that interested in, since I’m well beyond the age where I can really empathize with the characters, and I’m also used to more complexity in my books than YA fiction usually provides. Still, I’d read such positive reviews that I decided it was worth a try.
Dumplin’ is about an overweight teenage girl, Willowdean Dickson, her first romance, friendships, and a beauty pageant. The beauty pageant is where you’d expect to be surprised, and it’s certainly not what I expected for this character, who has a lot of confidence but also her fair share of body image issues.
One of the things I liked about Willowdean was that she really was confident (for a while, anyway) and she didn’t let anyone tell her that she shouldn’t be happy with who she was just because she was fat. But then, through the course of the book, she lost her way and I had some issues with her attitude, though I suppose this is all par for the course with teenagers. She was always interesting, though, which I did appreciate.
I liked that this book showed the less glamorous teenagers in a town, the ones who are well-known for reasons they wish would go away, like bad teeth or extra weight. I liked that we could see that these girls had the same kinds of dreams as the stereotypical beauty queen types. I also liked that, in the book’s universe, they weren’t all friends with each other before. Another thing I liked was that the sorts of boys who were interested in Willowdean (two that we know of) weren’t just awkward outcasts; they were a former basketball player and a football star, both popular and (we’re told) attractive. In pop culture, we see a lot of typecasting, where fat girls can only date the guys no one else really wants for one reason or another, and they’re always friends with the other fat girls. This book showed that weight isn’t the only thing that defines someone, especially in Willowdean’s case.
What I didn’t like was how she treated her best friend, Ellen. For a best friend, she was certainly very jealous and stubborn. I know very well that friendships change in high school, but it seems like this one didn’t really need to. I don’t really buy that these two would just refuse to speak to each other for months over a silly issue like a pageant, but I guess it could happen. Still, it made me like Willowdean less.
This book is full of positive messages, and I can see why it would be a great read for teen girls (or boys). It’s very much about accepting yourself as you are, and about having confidence no matter what your weight or dress size or what other people are telling you should make you happy. I think the message obviously applies to any issues you have with yourself, whether it’s an issue of weight, crooked teeth, skin problems, a limp, or something else, and that’s really great. Everyone has something about themselves they wish was different, but this book really seeks to tell young people especially that it’s okay to accept yourself as-is.
This book is very much outside the realm of what I’d usually read, but as a light, quick addition to my “read” list, I enjoyed it. I listened to the audiobook version, which I thought was done very well and would recommend. I ended up giving this book four stars and would recommend it if you’re into young adult fiction.