Publication Date: September 15, 2015
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 384 (ARC)
Source: BEA 2015/From Publisher for Review
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.
I. FREAKIN'. LOVED. THIS. BEAUTIFUL. BOOK.
I was slightly hesitant to pick this up because Murphy's debut novel was not my cup of tea, but this book was so amazing I can't see anyone disliking it. Let me tell you why.
It tackles societal expectations.
There are some not so great aspects of modern day society. Sure, we've been moving in the right direction. Gay marriage is legalized, racism is not as crazy as it once was though it still exists, there are influential women in important positions of power. But with all of that in mind, our society still shames fatness. It tells us that it is not okay to be fat and that if you are on the heavier side, you can't be comfortable in your own skin. While there have been many movements popping up recently combating body-shaming, it's still a very real problem. And to come across a main character that is still in high school that recognizes she is large and has no problem with it is so empowering. She experiences self-esteem issues from it when, say, kissing boys, but who doesn't get worried when someone touches a part of our body we may not love? Willowdean doesn't let it bring her down and I love that about her. At times it is hard to read how people react to her, but being in her mind and feeling her strength is empowering.
Our main character rocks.
So if you didn't figure it out from me talking about how much I love Willowdean with the above point, I'll just repeat that I love Willowdean. She is comfortable with herself and her loves, even if she recognizes that Dolly Parton is a weirder love. But trust me, by the end of the book you'll love Dolly Parton, too. She is sarcastic, devoted, comfortable, and accepting. She is the type of friend I would want to have, even if she gets intense tunnel vision that makes her fail to see the big picture sometimes.
The love interest also rocks.
Bo. What a guy. His beautiful basketball playing arms, mad burger-flipping skills, obsession with red lollipops that always stain his lips, ability to make Willowdean weak in the knees simply by saying her name, and beautiful peachbutt will make your heart melt. Yeah, he's messed up in the past and lives a really complicated life, but he loves Willowdean for her mind and what she has to offer and doesn't care what others think about that. There are no declarations of love in this novel, but as it progresses you just get this serious sense that he loves her for her and I absolutely love that. New book boyfriend alert!
Beautiful friendship is beautiful.
Willowdean's best friend is Ellen and, physically, they are complete opposites. Willowdean is heavier and shorter whereas Ellen is tall, slender, and your typical beauty queen. But they bonded over their love of Dolly Parton at a very young age and are inseparable now, even if people label them as a weird pairing. Throughout the novel, Willowdean also finds a unique set of friends that are completed unexpected but totally adorable. They work well together and the end crew of five displays how you truly can't judge a book by their cover--especially in the vain wasteland that is high school.
Totally realistic and relatable.
Not only does Willowdean's weight show how people react to heavier players, but this book depicts so many other realistic views in high school. Beautiful Ellen is ridiculed at school because her boyfriend, Tim, is several inches shorter than her, which shows how everyone can get made fun of in this environment. Willowdean worries about dating Bo because of how people react, but she learns to allow herself to be happy and anyone who tries to bring her down must be pretty miserable. Gay people may not be as accepted, but they will be accepted when they find the right group of friends. Being physically different from your peers does not make you a leper, so don't allow it to control your life. There are family problems in the book, but Willowdean and her mom try to work through it in their own way because they love each other despite their differences. High school is a small stop in your life that won't be relevant in the years to come, so don't let anything hurt you too much. Murphy's depiction of high school was all too real with how terrible of a place it can be, but also how great it can be. The cliche lesson of how you should always follow you dreams and never allow your small town to define who you are (this one totally rings true to me) is present, and damn it, if you need to sit at home and not shower while you shovel chocolate chips in your mouth every now and then...DO IT!
Dolly Parton, pageants, and girls who are big and proud.
I love how Willowdean has a close connection with Dolly Parton for reasons I'll allow you to discover for yourself and she has absolutely no shame in it. She loves it and embraces it, and has readers singing Jolene in repeat in their head by the end of the novel. The book also explores pageants, which is something I haven't come across before. It brings a refreshing twist to the YA contemporary scene on top of the being a big girl and proud sentiment that is beginning to be a big deal across America. I love that this movement is gaining steam (especially after that hate-filled YouTube video came out recently) and this book is coming out at just the right time if you ask me.
The one reason that this novel is receiving 4.5 stars instead of a perfect 5 from me is because the second half of the novel was super pageant focus. I love the pageant as a plot point, but the beginning of the novel explored so much and some of that stuff that was really important to me, as a reader, fell to the wayside in the second half in favor of pageant drama and preparation, only for the actual pageant to take up a very small amount of pages.
All in all, just short of perfection and I think this is a novel that any YA reader should read. It's not only that good, but it's that important.
FTC Disclaimer: I received no compensation of any kind in exchange for this honest review.