Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy Review: Battling Against Fat Stereotypes

August 10, 2015 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 3 stars, Books, Reviews

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy Review: Battling Against Fat StereotypesDumplin' by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer + Bray, Penguin Australia on August 26, 2015
Source: Publisher
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. 

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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Twitter @happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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63 responses to “Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy Review: Battling Against Fat Stereotypes

  1. I've been seeing this book a lot on the blogosphere, but this is probably the first review I read. I actually read her previous book, and it was just okay for me. All the hype about this one had me curious though, but you made a lot of excellent points about how this might not be that good. I think this author does make some great moments, but maybe not all of it comes together to be the perfect read. I'm not really sure since I haven't read this one. Though the premise itself might make it an interesting read.
    My recent post Review: Joni, Underway by Kelly Oram and Jonathan Harrow

  2. Tbh, Dumplin didn't rub me in a good way ever since I heard about it. The thing is, I am a huge fan of books that deals with insecurity. I being a terribly insecure teenager myself, know exactly how it feels like to be insecure in your own skin. At the same time, it's also something sensitive to me, and something about Will makes me wary of reading this book.
    Great review Jeann!
    My recent post LITHW # 9 : Discover your blogging style

  3. To be honest, I'm not really interested in this book at all. I mean, I am all for body diversity because I really am very sick and tired of all our main characters being stick thin, but the story just doesn't interest me at all.

    And it's such a shame that it missed the point with you, Jeann. I really think it's kind of sad that whilst fighting the stick thin stereotype, the book falls into the male stereotypes of jock and popular guy. It kind of seems to miss the whole point of the book, to be honest.

    This was a lovely review, and I hope you like your next book a little better! <3
    My recent post Books for Mail + Simply Sunday (#25)

  4. There's this slam poem where it's like "ten things about a fat girl dating a skinny guy" and omg that last quote reminds me of that poem because it's like you say you're fat and the other person's like, "no you're beautiful." but like WHY CAN'T WE BE BOTH?????

    I really want to read this for the messages. It's sad you didn't love it but when I read it, I hope I do!

  5. Ah no that sucks! I haven't read the book yet, and I will soon, but I always wondered why she was so insecure with her love life when she was confident in everything else, you know? And I want to know more about beauty pageants so I'm sad it's not really focused on that much.

    Awesome review Jeann! I am still looking forward to the dialogue though! I heard that was really good!

  6. danielleisbusyreading

    I'm sorry this didn't quite work for you! I think I would be very frustrated with the romance. :/ I like the message a lot and think most (if not all) readers can relate to it, but sounds like the execution may not be that great.

    Lovely review!

  7. Charlene @ Bookish Whimsy

    I've heard good things about this one, so it was interesting to read your review! It seems like a fun and inspiring read, but I feel like I might think it was too slow, but I'll keep it in mind in case I come across a copy up for grabs. 🙂
    My recent post Review: Fairytale Beginnings

  8. Aw, sadness. I am sorry you didn't love this one! I am still excited about it though, hopefully it will work better for me? I think from just my own personal experiences, I can completely understand her insecurities AND her driving people away, so maybe that will actually help me with this one. Fabulous review, I am glad you at least kind of liked it!
    My recent post Review: Your Voice is All I Hear

  9. littlebookstar

    I think I gave this one a 3.5 stars. I didn't fell in love with it also, but I did enjoy reading it. I think it's one of those books that are fun to read but easy to forget after you put it down. I do like the message that this book says through Willowdean. I think my problem was with how the main character acted and the romance.

  10. I feel like this book is getting so much praise because it's about a fat main character, and I wish the book would talk more about her insecurities and how she overcomes them. I love books with awesome themes, and I'm sad to see this one doesn't explore the MC's thoughts and feelings… The romance sounds pretty cute, and I can't wait to read the funny scenes. This Bo guy doesn't seem to be well developed though… Lovely review!!
    My recent post Series Review &amp; Blog Tour ~ Landry Park+Jubilee Manor

  11. Everyone's had a party where I wasn't invited – that's a REALLY good way to put a lot of books I didn't like and everyone is just raving about (me and The Fifth Wave…).

    Anyways… this doesn't sound like something I would actually like it as much you did, even if it does promote a positive body image.

    By the way, I thought this would be a cute book about dumplings from Chinese cuisine from the title. :p

    Fabulous review, Jeann!
    My recent post DNF ARC Review: The Last of the Firedrakes by Farah Oomerbhoy (The Newest Damsel in Distress)

  12. Kara Terzis

    Honestly, I think it's absolutely BRILLIANT that there are books like this being published. Loving who we are no matter what is a very important message I don't think we see enough in YA fiction, you know? Oh, I'm sorry you couldn't love this one more! But I can see why. I suppose I'll just have to wait and see what I'll think of it 🙂
    My recent post Sunday Weekly Wrap Up (68) &amp; Stacking the Shelves (48)

  13. Maraia

    Honestly, I'm a little worried about this book. Both you and Cait have mentioned similar character criticisms that I have a feeling will bug me. I do want to love this book, because I've heard so many great things about it, but I don't know. (*whispers* maybe I'll just watch the movie, haha.) I do have it on hold at the library, so at the very least I'll give it a try.

    Thanks for your review!

    • I know what it means when there's so much hype! There are some character things that bugged me, but overall it was enjoyable. Looking forward to your thoughts Maraia!

  14. I'm really happy to see this review Jeanne; so many people have LOVED it that I was starting to get kind of skeptical. I love the concept, because heavier girls aren't represented nearly as well as they should be and it's a huge shame. But that romance sounds really sketchy and I'm not about that. I'm glad you at least found some parts to enjoy though!
    My recent post Shattering Stigmas: My Story

  15. The character sounds a lot like Fat Amy! The whole concept of the story sounds complex and different. I can't wait to read it because I have a feeling this would be a funny kind of book 😀

  16. Elizabeth

    Bummer. Maybe you were too excited for it, although I've read a number of books lately that could have done with some re thinking and fleshing out.

  17. booksbonesbuffy

    Oh too bad! I was thinking this sounded really good. There aren't a whole lot of books out there dealing with weight issues. It sounds like it had potential, sorry it didn't work out for you!

  18. laurahartleyy

    Ahh it's a shame you did' like it so much! I'm desperate to read this title!! It seems weird that there wouldn't be that much about how she feels about being overweight etc. if that's the focus of the book :/ Think I'll still give this a read though! Great review 🙂

    Laura @ What's Hot?

  19. Is that a love triangle I sense? I hope not?

    I DO love the sound of this book in theory (because what's not to love about a book spreading a positive body image?) but I am also not fond of romantic drama and it makes me sad that someone who is so confident loses her positivity because someone attractive likes her. I feel like that is realistic in many ways but at the same time, I feel like that would be a hard chunk for me to read 🙁

    I am sorry this book didn't work as well as it could have, hon 🙁
    My recent post ARC Review: Awake by Natasha Preston

    • Hmm…it wasn't an obvious love triangle as such, because she was pretty focused on Bo the whole time, despite the dating on the side. Thanks Rashika *holds*

  20. I enjoyed this one more than you did because it felt very personal to me. It was like every insecurity I had wrapped up in this pretty book. I understand why you struggled with it. The romance wasn't my favorite either, but I didn't read the book for it. I'm glad that there were lessons you learned from it though, Jeann.
    Wonderful review!
    My recent post Review : Playing for Her Heart by Megan Erickson

  21. Awww, this is sadness. But I'm glad it wasn't a total dive for you or anything. So that's a positive! 😀 I quite liked it, but I wasn't a fan of the romance aspects a lot, sadly. I kind of understand that Will needed to work on her insecurities before she was ready for a relationship but YES. She was stringing the guys along and then dumping them and gah, it made me kind of mad. But I'm not a romance nut in the first place, so I'm glad it wasn't just me who wasn't a fan of that.
    But the rest of the book? FAJDKLAS FEMINISM. <3

    • Yeah, I wasn't a fan of Will's insecurities, the romance or the love triangle. But yes! The feminism and the fun parts were worth it 🙂

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