Monday, September 21, 2015

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

Title: Dumplin'
Author: Julie Murphy
Balzar and Bray
Release Date: Sept 15th
Rating: 5/5

The Gist:
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' is one of those books where I feel woefully unqualified to write a review.  How can I possibly do justice to the brilliant, sweet, heart-wrenching and, ultimately, triumphant book that is Dumplin?  Julie Murphy has created a cast of characters that are so real and well-developed that I often felt they could walk right off the page.  Every character is shown as being multi-faceted.  Ever. Single. One.  I loved watching their hidden sides emerge alongside Willowdean, especially the girls who joined the pageant with her.  Aunt Lucy plays a fantastic role, even though she has passed on before the events of the book, and it is heartbreaking to watch Will struggle to find her place in the world without Aunt Lucy in her corner.  This plays into the incredibly realistic relationship that she has with her mother, and while it is clear that they love each other, neither seems to quite understand the other. 

Willowdean herself has a tough and confident exterior, but the author does a phenomenal job of showing how even girls that appear to have it all together can have crippling insecurities.  Throughout the novel we watch Will as she fights her own demons and struggles against the messages that the world is constantly pushing at her; that she isn't good enough, that she should be ashamed of her body, that someone her size doesn't deserve happiness.  Sometimes she falters, which makes this novel all the more relatable, but she gets back up again and comes out stronger than before. 

Dumplin' features a not-so-typical romance between Will and Bo - the last guy she ever expected to be interested in her.  There is a touch of a triangle, as another suitor tries to garner her affection, but it never actually ventures into the been-there-read-that territory of the literary trope.  The reader is never quite sure of Bo's intentions and, for most of the novel, we get wrapped up in the mystery of him right alongside Willowdean.  It is heartbreaking to watch (but oh so relatable) as Will stiffens at his touch and wonders if she is good enough or if he is being honest. 

Dumplin' is not just a story about a self-proclaimed fat girl finding her place in the spotlight.  It runs deeper than that.  Through Willowdean's internal struggle and the revelations of the other girls in the pageant, we see how everyone suffers with insecurities, no matter their shape or size.  The overwhelming message, however, is that we not allow the internal monologue of "not good enough" to hold you back from wonderful and important life experiences.

Bottom Line: Dumplin is a book that I would recommend to anyone and especially one that all teenagers should read.  It now sits on a special shelf in my classroom (at least it would if it wasn't being read so often!)

Teaching/Parental Notes:

13 and up
Sex: Kissing, Discussion of sex between teens (not described)
Violence: Fist Fighting
Inappropriate Language: Shit, Douche, Asshole, Fuck, Jesus Christ, Bitch, Dick, Whore
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage drinking

Notable Quotables:

"I sit down to eat and liberally spread salad dressing across my plate, because on the eighth day God created ranch dressing."

"It's not that I don't like new people.  It's just that, in general, I do not like new people."


Post a Comment