Published: September 15th, 2015
by: Balzer + Bray
Genres: YA, Contemporary
My Rating: 2.5 Stars
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.
After months of wanting to devour this book, I was let down by the “forgettable” heroine, Willowdean. She may be unforgettable to some, but she is just another YA heroine navigating the halls of high school. Sure, she’s not your typical skinny girl, but that is all that sets her apart from the rest. She’s insecure half the time, trying to juggle two guys at once, and despite the taunts that she receives about her weight, she has a tendency to think negative thoughts about others who are “fatter” than her, or has something that makes them the target for bullies. I was awed by her boldness to actually fall out with her best friend because she decided to enter the pageant.
Dumplin’ is not at all what I thought it to be. Sure, it has it’s moments, but those weren’t enough for me to say, Now this is the greatest YA contemporary I’ve ever read. I wanted to be in the moment with Willowdean while she embraced her curves and shut down stereotypical ideas that you have to be a size 1 to win a pageant. In some ways, I can see how readers love this book. It’s on the right track to bringing “real” characters to the forefront of the YA genre that usually center around Little Miss Perfect. That’s about all that stood out to me. The rest was just like all the other books I’ve read. The love triangle was not needed (nor wanted), and it took over the whole plot.
Willowdean was doing good at the beginning of this book. She and her best friend El were as thick as thieves. They hung out, shared secrets, went swimming, and sang Dolly Parton songs at the top of their lungs. And then the shift. El starts hanging out with Callie. Willowdean immediately hates her, as she feels that Callie is taking her best friend. Then she and her coworker Bo kiss. Everything is fine until Bo touches her sides. It was like she didn’t even know she was a big girl until that moment. I wanted her confidence to extend to her finally getting a guy. A hot guy. But no, she was so worried about what others would think. Add to that, she’s still grieving for her aunt Lucy, and it all just went downhill from there.
Entering the pageant was like the defining moment. Well, at least I thought it was. Not only does Willow enter, but so does Millie (a girl who is bigger than Willow – and we wouldn’t have known that if Willow hadn’t given us that bit with her hypocritical monologue), and 2 other girls who don’t fit what society thinks a beauty pageant contestant should look like. Sadly, this didn’t deliver. The pageant didn’t happen until the end, but I wanted to watch these girls get into action. I wanted them to be fierce and show all of Texas that they have what it takes. What I got instead was Willow wallowing because she doesn’t have her best friend anymore, more wallowing because she can’t choose between Bo and Mitch, and her constantly arguing with her mother about her weight. If Willow was so happy and comfortable in her skin, she didn’t act like it. The only time I got that impression was at the beginning when she went swimming. Sure, she braved the swimsuit portion of the pageant, but that fearlessness was gone by then.
I give this 2.5 for effort. It was brave to take on a character like Willow when everyone is so used to cookie cutter girls. Instead of making Willow stand out, the author just made her like all the other YA heroines before her. Murphy gives us two “fat” girls, a lesbian, a girl who needs corrective shoes, and a drag queen. Do you know how epic this book could have been? Am I the only one seeing the potential here? This was a big let down. I’m not sure I even want to recommend this one.