Review: Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

Friday, June 26, 2015
Title: Dumplin'
Author: Julie Murphy
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Published: expected September 15 2015
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 4.5/5

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.

Reading Dumplin' is worthwhile for a lot of reasons. It's a fun book. It's funny because Willow is funny and her voice is vibrant. It's authentic, in regards to Willow, and also to her Southern roots and more. It's also honest. Julie Murphy's second novel is full of heart but also sass and sarcasm, uncertainty, and the pains of adolescence. It's about much more than Willow losing weight or dieting. Dumplin' is about love, and acceptance, growing up and sometimes even growing apart. It's a contemporary novel that touches on a lot of themes and does so with genuine warmth and often just the right amount of humor. 

Willow's story isn't typical for most YA audiences. Not only is she a self-proclaimed fat girl but Willow doesn't spend the book's 384 pages trying to lose that weight. Her lifestory isn't just a number on a scale; she is so much more than that and Julie Murphy characterizes her ably and even-handedly. Willow is the main character but she's also far from perfect. She's a good friend most of the time, a good daughter most of the time, etc. What I like most about her though, is that her interests and hobbies aren't limited towards weighing less or hating herself/changing her appearance. Willow is a complex and interesting person with a lot going on over the course of the novel. Even when she does struggle with her appearance, Dumplin' (and Willow) remain body positive.

If the plot in the second half of the book had been less concerned with the town's beauty pageant, I'd be 5-starring this. The first half, with the friendship issues and the family grief mixed with newfound attraction, just worked better for me. This is still 4.5 stars, though. The story at the heart of Dumplin' is wonderful, and about so much more than weight. It's about growing up, growing apart, becoming independent, recognizing your self-worth... etc. The pageant angle ties in pretty well (and does make for a great finale), especially with Willow's mother's arc, but it didn't capitalize on the emotion generated by the less showy plotlines (like Lucy's death, Ellen's family situation) from earlier in the story.

There are also some excellent kissing scenes. The romance is sweet without being saccharine. I also liked the complexity of Willow's romantic life. It's not a love triangle, but neither is Willow's love life a decided thing from the start. Murphy also spends much more time fleshing out the friendships between the teenagers than the romantic relationships. I love reading about positive girl friendships in YA and by and large, Dumplin' features some pretty strong female friendships.

Julie Murphy does an excellent job of showing what a teenage girl like Willow's life could conceivably be like. Dumplin' feels and reads very real from the first chapter. Willowdean has a memorable voice; one that I won't be forgetting. I think a lot of readers will find something of themselves in this book --- maybe not in Willow but in Hannah or Ellen or Millie.

Recc'd for: fans of Robin Brande's Fat Cat or K.A. Barson's 45 Pounds (More or Less). 


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