by Julie Murphy
Original Publication Date: September 15, 2015
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Obtained Via: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the final work.
View at the Traffic light:
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.
Dumplin’ left me with a big grin on my face. It’s not a completely happy book in general–there were times it made me sad, times it made me angry(at circumstances within the book, not the book itself), and times it made made me reflective–but overall I was left feeling like I had just received a standing ovation.
Dumplin’, both the book and Willowdean, have so many layers to delve into. Parts of it hit me on a personal level. I, much like Willowdean, grew up in a small Texas town. One of the things Willowdean talks about in the book is how much her mother’s beauty pageant win tended to hang over her, and that just resounded with me SO much as I grew up in a small town with the other female members of my family that everyone knew and looked SO different from me. More than once I just wanted to reach through the book and give Willowdean a hug and a “me too, girl, me too.”
There were some pretty fun plot threads in Dumplin’, but mostly I loved the characters. Willowdean is a character I’ve always wanted to see in fiction and didn’t even realize it. Most of the time she’s unashamed about her body because it’s her’s. She’s fat and that doesn’t have to be a judgement about her character or a term to shy away from, just like descriptors like “tall” and “pale” aren’t, but that doesn’t mean she’s always comfortable with her body. Like most of us, she has insecurities. At one point she thinks about how she can be both insecure and confident at different times and that was just such a SPOT-ON passage I think every teen girl can relate to, no matter what kind of body you have.
I feel like if I pointed out all the things I loved about Dumplin’ as it relates to teen girls and their bodies I would never finish this review, but guys, there’s just so much good stuff. I loved that Willowdean didn’t have to be the “inspirational fat girl” all the time. She made mistakes, she was insecure, she knew her happiness wasn’t really dependent on her weight but sometimes it felt like it was to her. I love that sometimes she had negative thoughts about other girl’s bodies and realized how wrong it was because that’s something I get so much. It’s that horrible thought of “Well, I might be ____(whatever you don’t like/society tells you you’re not supposed to like about yourself), but I’m not as bad as her. I’m not there.” And you KNOW that’s horrible but sometimes it feels like the only way to get by, and sometimes you have to dig down so deep for that happiness at being yourself, whatever that looks like.
There’s also an excellent thread of a friendship growing apart and reconciliation that isn’t mentioned in the blurb, but is actually a pretty major plot line. As Willowdean enters the pageant, she also begins to make friends with some of the other “unlikely suspects,” who mostly join because she did. Willowdean doesn’t want to become a ringleader for these girls, but ends up often feels responsible for their pageant well-being. I thought this thread was written in a really interesting way. It’s not your high school movie cliche where these girls become instant friends, and in fact sometimes there’s some snappiness, but there’s this spirit of camaraderie that develops. The secondary characters are great too–I loved all the girls who followed in Willowdean’s footsteps and entered the pageant.
As a Texan, I found parts of Dumplin’ so fun to read. There’s a whole long paragraph about Homecoming mums! and sweet tea(a character serves powdered sweet tea, and y’all, say it ain’t so. That’s just not right). It’s just so Texas in the most “the stars at night are big and bright” way. I have to admit that I do not always pay a great deal of attention to setting when I read, but it was hard to miss with Dumplin’ because of the authenticity.
There were only two things I found a little off about Dumplin’, though neither really negated any of my enjoyment. The first is a pretty small complaint–the timeline was a little weird. There’s no back and forth in time or anything, I just mean in the transition from scene to scene. There’s a section of the book that takes place three months before Willowdean decides to enter the pageant, and I didn’t feel like everything in that section was 100% necessary from a story standpoint, though because I was so into Willowdean’s voice it didn’t bother me in the slightest, but I did notice it.
The second is the one I think people might actually have issues with–the love interest(s). I would not say that Dumplin’ is really a love triangle, but it does begin to feel like it’s tethering on the edge at times. For awhile, Bo is firmly in Willowdean’s past and she starts hanging out with Mitch, who’s your charming small-town wholesome Texan boy. Mitch is nice, they go on a date, and they both agree it’s a bad date, so they decide to be friends. Fair enough. But there’s some messy overlap towards the end of the book as the pageant approaches. Willowdean isn’t really interested in Mitch, and that’s pretty clear, so it didn’t bother me really, but I know many readers like to be given a head’s up on love triangles.
Willowdean might not be the expected star of Clover City’s beauty pageant, but she is most definitely the star of this book. She’s a true Texas gal who loves Dolly Parton, grieves and hopes, has ambitions and insecurities, and most of all feels so incredibly real, like someone I could walk into on the street. This book totally stole my heart.
LOVED. I am so, so, SO glad I gave this book a chance because it absolutely shone with with fabulous characters and had so many good things to say. 5/5 cupcakes.