I think this book is going to be a big deal. Why? I have spent much of my life feeling like Dumplin’. I know chub rub intimately. I still cringe when my husband touches my back fat. I found it mind blowing to consider that anyone attractive could find me attractive. These things mean that this is a realistic perspective of life as a big girl – Willowdean reads like a real, honest-to-goodness fat girl. That matters a lot to me when it comes to books like this. If you haven’t lived life as an XXL in a XS world, you just don’t get it – the struggle to love yourself when everyone seems determined to loathe and judge. And guess what? Apparently lots of other readers feel the same way. There has been a huge positive response from early reviewers. I’ll admit it was only a four star read for me, but tons of five star reviews have been attached to this debut. I think it is worth your time, even if you are skinny.
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 am happy to tell you no one loses weight in this book, and no one feels compelled to explain how a hot guy could fall for a full sized gal. Thank you. Seriously. Instead, you can expect to find some cross dressing Dolly Parton impersonators, myriad references to the song “Jolene,” and big girls showing up weird, loud, and proud to walk the beauty pageant catwalk. That sounds like an awesome prospect, so why was I so underwhelmed? I think I had certain expectations for the character of Willowdean that just weren’t in the cards. This has happened before, and I know that I can’t expect realistic characters to be my perfect characters. I will own up to the fact that my disappointment with this character is absolutely all on me. Nevertheless, I’m going to explain what I didn’t love about Miss Willowdean. She never just went for it!?! I never got that empowering moment where she said, “Screw it – I’m gonna burn this mutha’ down.” I really wanted that moment. I wanted Willodean to get her crap together and really show everyone what she was capable of, and I just didn’t feel like she did this. She kind of farted around and halfway lit a sparkler for the pageant. Sigh. That is why I wasn’t just in love with this book. Do I think you can still adore this book? Absolutely! I think that other readers will think she is a triumph of a character. Willowdean is herself, even when it doesn’t please her mother, and even when it doesn’t please me. I think we could actually use a few more people like this in the world, and this is exactly the point of the book – I’m gonna do me. The lessons Willowdean learns as she attempts to do things her way are essential life lessons – she needs to know that just as she hates being judged by people’s perceptions, she is as guilty of doing the same thing to those around her. Yep. We all need that one pounded into us. Lots of readers adored this book, and Dumplin is absolutely a “keepin it real” voice in YA fiction that many readers will connect with. I highly recommend you give Willowdean a chance to worm her way into your affections, and I am adding it to my classroom library where I am certain heaps of my high school readers are going to see her as a real inspiration. Language and situations are appropriate for high school, but adult readers will find this book just as compelling.
I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.