Published by Balzer + Bray, Penguin Australia on August 26, 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
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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 reading Dumplin’ and not loving it, I felt like everyone’s had a party where I wasn’t invited. Everyone’s been raving about it, it’s going to be made into a movie, but upon reaching the end, I still felt like I struggled to reach the point.
Having a fat main character is the main drawcard of the book, and Willowdean (or Will for short) Dickson knows that she’s fat. But the book doesn’t talk about her insecurities a lot, or even how different she feels compared to the other girls competing in the Miss Teen Blue Bonnett Beauty Pageant. At it’s heart, Will is just like everyone else, coping with family, friendship and a love life. And that’s what I felt was missing.
“No matter how much I tell myself that the fat and the stretch marks don’t matter, they do. Even if Bo, for whatever reason doesn’t care, I do.”
Will is confident, bold and hilarious with her frank, dry humour (and to be honest, I found her kind of intimidating). With an overbearing pageant mum, she goes through life declaring that she doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of her. But when she starts getting into a relationship with her hot co-worker Bo, she’s overcome with insecurities, claiming that a guy like him doesn’t belong with a girl like her. I could see just how hard on herself she was, but the only barrier to her happiness was herself. And she needed to work through those insecurities, those thoughts before she could allow herself to be happy, but in the process, she pushes away the people who care about her.
The book is pretty slow, with the beauty pageant not kicking in until the 2nd half of the book. I kind of thought there’d be more focus on the pageant, but instead, Will pretty much wallows in the insecurities of her love life and her problems with her best friend. I thought she would be practicing for the pageant, giving it her best shot, but nope. She approaches it as an afterthought, more preoccupied with the romance.
“I wish there were some kind of magic words that could bridge the gap between the person I am and the one I wish I could be. Because the whole fake it till you make it thing? It’s not working for me.”
While I liked the romance, I felt like we didn’t get to know much about Bo or Mitch, aside from their typecast “popular guy” or “football guy” stereotypes. Which is something that the whole book is trying to fight against. Bo is a really sweet popular guy, who works at the fast food joint. Aside from not caring about Will’s body, being incredibly sweet and having a well defined jawline, we don’t know much about him other than his attraction for Will and that he works at the same place as her. Neither do we know much about Mitch, the stocky football player who asks Will out, aside from him having a jerk best friend. I felt really sorry for him, Will kept lying to herself and to him with her lack of feelings, pretty much stringing him along.
Peppered amongst the romance and the humour are some pretty wonderful moments, like getting catwalk lessons from a drag queen, the kisses with Bo and befriending the outcasts of the school. It’s these charming moments that I really enjoyed, that will translate really well on screen.
In the end, Dumplin’ teaches you to be confident in yourself, no matter what body you are in. Because the only person who is going to prevent you from that happiness, that confidence, is yourself. And believing that you have the chance to do anything, like enter a beauty pageant as a fat girl, is where it all starts. I only wish more of that came through in Dumplin’. But we can’t have everything.
“Beautiful, he says. Fat, I think. But can’t I be both at the same time?”
With it’s Texan charm, pageant mum’s and wonderfully confident fat girl at it’s helm, Dumplin’ sets out to spread positive body image and battle against heavier girl stereotypes. But it gets lost along the way, with insecurities, a messy romance, and a teen pageant competition to prove a point. With some lovely life lessons, it felt like the potential to be more, but I kind of missed the point.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Thank you to Penguin Random House for sending me this book for review.