What if instead of the smart and practical Elizabeth Wakefield…
It’s hard for a book to get more in my wheelhouse than Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. A story with fat girl who isn’t just the cautionary whale? (Thank you, Diablo Cody & “Juno” for that one, forever and ever) Yes, please. Cute boys who like fat girls? Mmmhmm. Dolly Parton? Sign me up!
And yet. . . I was kind of bored by it.
Willowdean Dickson is the titular Dumplin’, so nicknamed by her former beauty-queen mom. Will’s fat and she’s not afraid to tell you. It’s not an insult. it’s a fact, and in generally she’s okay with that. However, that doesn’t mean she isn’t filled with self-doubt like every other sixteen-year-old on the planet, especially when Bo, the cutie-pie from the Catholic school, gets all handsy with her while they close up the local fast food joint where they work. What does he see in her anyway? And why does he want to touch her all the time?
Will spends the summer making out with Bo on the sly and worrying that her tall, thin, pretty BFF Ellen is leaving her in the dust. Ellen works at a clothing store in the mall has a bunch of new friends who can fit into the clothes they sell and has recently started having sex with her boyfriend.
When school starts in the fall, Will kinda biffs it. She messes up with Bo accusing him of being ashamed of her, and when Will decides to sign up for the beauty pageant her mom runs, she really messes up with Ellen. While she mourns the loss of Ellen and the tummy-feeling Bo gives her, and her aunt Lucy who died shorty before the book begins (of some sort of heart failure brought on by her excessive weight, I guess?), Will heads up a troop of merry misfits who enter the pageant along with her. There’s Millie who is some kind of next-level of fat that Will, early in the book, deems unacceptable? There’s Amanda who has one leg shorter than the other. And Hannah whose got a mouthful of giant, bad teeth.
The book follows Will through the first few months of school leading up to the big pageant. She has a flirtation/friendship with Mitch, a football player who has the hots for her. She pines for Bo and her lost friendship with Ellen. She struggles with the pageant and the girls who are looking to her for leadership. She fights with her mom.
I dunno. It feels like pretty standard teen fare. Will’s a sassafras, which makes it pretty fun to stumble through her life with her, but it’s not that exciting. There’s a Scooby-Doo moment late in the book where Ellen whispers in Will’s ear and Will’s “Yes! Let’s do that!” It’s ham-handed and annoying. We all know exactly what Ellen whispers, you can see this “twist” from the opening pages of the book, so why the stupid secrecy? It was ham-handed and super annoying.
In general, I liked the book. I chuckled a few times. I really loved the Willowdean/Bo thing, it felt so genuine — both his affection and attraction to her as well as her reticence about getting involved with him. Had the book focused purely on that, I’d have heart rainbows coming out my ears. But there’s a whole lot more stuff piled onto that sweet little romance that kind of waters down its impact.
Amusing, enough, yes. We’re I fifteen I probably would have liked liked this one. As it is, I only kinda liked it.