By Julie Murphy
Summary: 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.
Source: I received this book in the September 2015 Owlcrate
This book has sat on my shelf for a year and a half. I participated in the Owlcrate-athon last month and one of the mini challenges was to read the Owlcrate book you’ve had on your shelf the longest. I received Dumplin in my very first Owlcrate and it has sat on my shelf ever since.
Let me start by saying that I think there should be way more body positivity in literature. I think it’s important for readers to connect with characters and that means there should be a variety of main characters and I support diversity in all aspects. I cannot emphasize that enough. With that being said, the few books that have been hyped as having a “fat” heroine have not worked for me. I feel like a lot of times when I’m reading, I have no idea whether the main character in a story is fat or skinny in most books. Seriously. And I think maybe it’s assumed that they are skinny if the author doesn’t specifically mention they are fat. But I read a lot of books and many of them have main characters who are not confident in their own skin and I think any person who feels like that can identify no matter what the specific issue is and I like that about books. When I read books with specific fat girls who are supposed to be a breath of fresh air in a world of skinny literature, I typically pick up a book riddled with the opposite of body positivity. It’s more about their looks than it is about anything else and I just don’t get it. If there ARE going to be books about growing some confidence, I certainly hope they take a specific issue and make it positive instead of being more awful than the stereotype they are trying to fight against.
So I went into Dumplin with a ton of reservations and wariness.
I’m on the fence about whether I liked it. I don’t feel like Dumplin was all that amazing in terms of making readers feel confident or promoting body positivity in general. I felt like everything came down to weight and the confident heroine wasn’t at all confident. I honestly think I would’ve rather read the same book from Millie’s point of view because she didn’t seem to be as negative or judgmental about the way other people looked. Willowdean was just as bad as the rest of society because she judged people all of the time for everything. It was almost as if she felt that, as a fat person, she had the upper hand and could look down on the rest of the world AND also judge her fellow ugly people because she was one of them. It was kind of awful. I think her feelings about herself could have been conveyed in a way that didn’t put other people down. We all feel self conscious, that doesn’t give us a right to judge other people more harshly in return.
At the same time, I think it’s unrealistic to expect a contemporary book about the issue of weight to ignore the fact that teenagers are awful and judgmental. Of course, as a teen girl, Will was going to be hyper aware of looks and social status and judge people. It’s what teen girls and boys do. And of course, while being judgmental, she would simultaneously be insecure while projecting false confidence. That is also what teenagers do. So I applaud the book for not trying to be some rainbow and fairy dust covered contemporary that makes us all better. Also, I think it did hit the point that we are our own worst critics and whatever we are worried about, we judge and notice in others as well. I know that as an awkward person, sometimes I get snotty about people who seem really comfortable in a new place and I realize that it’s not fair to the person I’m judging or to myself to do that. So Will’s awfulness has a point and it certainly does add to story, even if having that takes away from the whole positive message.
I can’t help but be torn. I liked the book and I felt like it did a good job of being realistic while attempting to be about learning to be comfortable in your own skin. By the end of the book, Will was better. She learned her lesson, stopped being so concerned about looks and how other people looked/were in comparison and I think that’s the point. It’s just that we had to watch Willowdean learn that lesson and she was quite awful about it. I’m just not sure if it helps or hurts the issue.