AUTHOR: Julie Murphy
PUBLISHER: Balzer + Bray
Young Adult -- Contemporary
Willowdean Dickson, nicknamed "Dumplin'" by her former beauty queen mother, is a self-proclaimed fat girl living in a small Texas town where the local teen beauty pageant is the biggest event of the year. Despite the anti-fat prejudices around her, Willowdean is confident in her own skin. That is, until she starts secretly dating Bo, her hot colleague at the fast food joint she works at. Meanwhile, the next pageant draws closer, and Willowdean's mom, who basically runs the show, can't stop obsessing. As a tribute to her late aunt, who had wanted to enter the pageant as a teen but never worked up the courage to, Willowdean defies expectations and signs up.
Dumplin' follows Willowdean's life as she navigates her topsy-turvy high school life. It's a hard book to summarize because it has so many elements... her first real romance, friendship drama, grief and discovery around her late aunt, grappling with body image... And all of it is great fun to read about. Willowdean's snappy and sassy voice springs to life and feels instantly relatable. I've seen some reviews criticizing her for not always being the nicest, or for being insecure about her fatness, to which I say... Dude. The whole point of Willowdean is that she isn't perfect. She's a good person at the core, but, like everyone else, she can be catty or petty at times. She can both love her body and waver in her confidence. It's hard being a teen, and every little thing feels like the biggest deal in the world. Which is why even though Willowdean can be a little dramatic (like all teens!), I still found her endearing. This is a character whose ups and downs, decisions and indecisions, make her feel like a real person. She can be both tough and sweet, both commendable and annoying, both confident and insecure, but whatever she's doing, she's always authentic.
I was listening to the audiobook, and I really enjoyed how the narrator brought Willowdean's voice to life. She did a great job of capturing Willowdean's charm and spirit.
Full of small-town charm, teen escapades, and the torments of young love, Dumplin' is a complex and thoroughly entertaining YA contemp that explores a lot of complicated issues. It's funny and heartwarming, yet isn't afraid to explore the harder parts of being a teen... a falling out with a friend, wrestling with grief, body insecurity. I loved reading about Willowdean's challenges and quirks, flaws and triumphs. Whether she gets the crown or not, she's a winner in my book.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julie lives in North Texas with her husband who loves her, her dog who adores her, and her cat who tolerates her. When she's not writing or trying to catch stray cats, she works at an academic library. Side Effects May Vary is Julie's debut novel.