Review: Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy

dumplinSelf-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.

Rating: 4/5

A powerful, riotous and joyful anthem to ladies in all their shapes, sizes and personalities.

But then there was the way Callie looked me up and down. Like I was some kind of abomination. The truth is that I’m mad I felt uncomfortable to begin with, because why should I? Why should I feel bad about wanting to get into a pool or standing around in my swimsuit? Why should I feel like I need to run in and out of the water so that no one has to see the atrocity that are my thighs?

Seriously, what a fabulous read. The author articulates so many truths when it comes to how we deal with larger bodies in society, especially female ones.

The word ‘fat’ makes people uncomfortable. But when you see me, the first thing you notice is my body. And my body is fat. It’s like how I notice some girls have big boobs or shiny hair or knobby knees. Those things are okay to say. But the word ‘fat’, the one that best describes me, makes lips frown and cheeks lose their colour. But that’s me. I’m fat. It’s not a cuss word. It’s not an insult. At least it’s not when I say it. 

Willowdean is a loveable, realistically flawed character. She expects the remarks about her weight, and many times beats people to the punch. She’s sarcastic and occasionally gloomy and focused on herself. She’s grieving for her dead aunt and has a tense relationship with her beauty pageant mother. She’s also a hard worker, full of spirit, and pulls some awesome stunts.

“Willowdean,” I said. “Cashier, Dolly Parton enthusiast, and resident fat girl.” I waited for his response, but he said nothing. “I mean, I am other things, too.” 

I adored Willowdean and Bo throughout their push-pull relationship. It was heartbreaking to read her inner dialogue about not wanting him to touch her for fear of feeling her fatness. It’s one thing to appear fat, it’s another to have that reality in someones face where there’s no ignoring it. She has a strong facade and attitude about her figure, but is plagued by these insecurities. Of course, she also fears the inevitable ‘what is a guy like him doing with a girl like her?’

I won’t be ridiculed. I won’t be one-half of the couple who everyone stares at and asks, ‘How did she get him’?

It’s also a novel about friendships. The ones we’ve had since childhood, and the distance that comes when you start to grow apart and try to fight it. It’s about very unlikely friendships, where a group of misfits band together. It’s about boys who are sweet and lovely (Mitch!) but don’t make your heart flutter. It’s about saying something horrible in the heat of the moment and being too stubborn to take it back.

“Maybe I thought I deserved all the same things those other girls do…But I’m different from other girls, and even if I do deserve the same things they do, that doesn’t mean I’ll get them….”

“Nope”, says Hannah. “I call bullshit. You don’t deserve to win anything or be in any pageant until you make the effort and do the work. Maybe fat girls or girls with limps or girls with big teeth don’t usually win beauty pageants. Maybe that’s not the norm. But the only way to change that is to be present. We can’t expect the same things these other girls do until we demand it. Because no one’s lining up to give us shit, Will.”

The author perfectly captures the small Southern-town vibe, where something that seems as insignificant to us as a beauty pageant is the lifeblood of the town.

Clover City is the type of place you leave. It’s love that either sucks you in or pushes you away. There are only a few who really make it out and stay out, while the rest of us drink, procreate, and go to church, and that seems to be enough to keep us afloat. 

All in all, a brilliant, body-positive read – while the idea of fatness may be one of the main themes, the author also skilfully depicts fraught friendships and families, a ship that set my heart aflutter, the horrors of high school, and small-town life.

ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication. 

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8 thoughts on “Review: Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy

  1. Maggie Stiefvater recently posted about this book (the author is a friend of hers) and it was pretty much all the recommendation I needed, but your wholehearted endorsement certainly helps. Luckily, I already have a copy and I really can’t wait to read it. This is exactly the type of book we need.

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  2. It seems wonderful how both the characters and the setting have been fleshed out so well. The MC sounds incredibly wonderful and I love the small town southern vibe going on! I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while now, and hopefully I’ll be able to after it comes out. The entire friendship dynamic sounds so wonderful – perhaps the most wonderful thing about this book! Lovely review, and glad you enjoyed it!

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  3. Wow, what a find! I knew of this one, but I haven’t got to read it yet. But the buzz has been incredible and I can’t wait! 🙂 I love a heroine that is simply comfortable with herself. Maybe she’ll start a trend in fiction (wouldn’t that be something!), and in real life too (if only!) Great, GREAT review ❤

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