Thursday, September 24, 2015
Review: Dumplin’ by 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. ~ Goodreads
Source: ARC provided by the publisher via BEA15
Review: I’ve been avoiding this book for a few months now. My twitter feed is filled with the “Dumplin pose”.
I had expected this larger than life, zany, confidant character – and I don’t mean her size - but her personality. What I got was a much more nuanced and authentic portrayal of a teenage girl in Willowdean Dickson, aka Dumplin’, to her mom.
Will starts out as a pretty confidant 16 year old, ok with her body and her life until she starts hitting some bumps in her relationship with BFF, Ellen, and after the cute boy at work, Bo, starts showing an interest in her. She's also been struggling with death of her aunt, who understood her in a way that her beauty pageant mom doesn't.
Will is a really complicated character. She's bold yet insecure. She’s is kind and generous but can also be self absorbed and myopic. That's hard to pull off but Murphy does it expertly. This was the kind of book where I didn’t always agree with Will's actions, yet I saw so much of myself in her that I found her to be completely relatable.
Let’s get to the romance. I personally didn’t think it was that big a part of the story. More of a catalyst for Willowdean to dig deeper and confront the insecurities she didn’t even know she had. Her friendships and relationship with her mom got equal footing. Dumplin' wasn't ALL about getting the boy.
There are two boys but it didn’t have a triangle feel (to me – others have thought differently). And I’m beyond love triangle phobic. But I think at 16 you try things out with different people. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Neither boy is fully developed enough to worry about it but they’re both sweet and right ( & wrong) for her in their own ways.
For those who have read the book - I want to talk about something that happened with Bo early on and a little bit about Mitch – I’d love to hear what your thoughts were on it. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Highlight to read – SPOILER WARNING –> When Bo doesn’t acknowledge Willowdean as more than a co-worker or tell her about going to his school it was interpreted as him being embarrassed of her weight. I personally never got that vibe. I felt like he just wasn’t ready for a relationship with everything going on in his life with his scholarship, brother and screwing up with his ex. It wasn’t personal to Willowdean. And she did the exact same thing to him. She wasn’t ready to discuss they’re friendship/make out sessions either. She kept him a secret as well.
I thought Mitch was nice and she may have led him on a bit but they’re 16 and she was trying to move on from Bo. They only went on a few dates. More testing the waters than a relationship. It just didn’t feel like one of those real angsty love triangles to me. Awkward for sure but nothing that upset me.
I did find it weird that she judged Mitch differently. Like would it have been ok for Mitch to touch her back fat? Or was it just as simple as not having the same kind of attraction to Mitch – knowing it was never going to get to that level? Or was it because she felt inadequate thinking Bo was good looking? That’s the one I would pick and it made me sad. For her, Bo and Mitch. It didn’t really give anyone enough credit. But I guess that was the point.
You can DM on Twitter (@teamsehltie) with a comment or mark it as spoiler in the comment section
Dumplin’ was about navigating different types of relationships and Willowdean learning to be comfortable with herself. Knowing and trusting that she was worth having good things in her life and being able to accept them.
I can’t say that Dumplin’ was that OMG best book ever kind of read for me but it was almost better than that. It cut close to home and my own personal experiences as a teenager. Those books tend to stay with me longer.
Julie wrote this great Dumplin’ release day post about why she wrote Willowdean’s story. How as a kid she felt she took up too much space. For me it was about not taking up enough space. When, as a teenager, I was awkward and shy. That I felt pushed to the background because I didn’t think I was good enough/bright enough for the spotlight. Because I was so wrapped up in my own self protective bubble to be bold or outgoing. It made me cringe because I saw myself at times in Willowdean’s actions. It’s the kind of book I wish I had at that age so I didn’t feel all alone.
The best YA is not “issue” specific. It’s something that taps into that universal feeling of “other” and I felt like Dumplin’ did that for me.