Thursday, February 18, 2016

"Dumplin'" by Julie Murphy

Willowdean Dickson is a high-school student living in a small, pageant-obsessed town in Texas. She owns that she is a fat girl. She refers to herself as such, and is comfortable with who she is and how she looks. She lives with her mom, a former pageant queen; works at a fast food restaurant with a good-looking; and shares her passion for Dolly Parton, imparted by her recently-deceased aunt, with her best friend Ellen.

In homage to her aunt, Willowdean decides to challenge her town's conventional standards of beauty and its social structure by entering the town's beauty pageant. As Willowdean prepares for the pageant and navigates the major relationships in her life, she questions who she is and has her confidence shaken. "Dumplin'" is the story of Willowdean reclaiming her confidence, deciding the type of person she wants to be, and essentially growing up.

Other reviewers have criticized this book for its focus on the bodies of other characters, painting Willowdean as overly judgmental for someone aware of how others judge her. Maybe I was too absorbed in my own blissful enjoyment of the novel, but these instances didn't stand out to me until I read these reviews. Willowdean's observations and commentary on other characters struck me as no different from those of any skinny character in any other book set in high school.

Everyone should aspire to be less judgmental, of course, but Willowdean is a human character who judges those around her. Her running commentary made her feel relatable and provided insight into how she sees the world around her. She grows as a character throughout the book, and while not every aspect of her personality should be emulated, on the whole she is still a positive role model. The novel is frank about issues of body image and confidence that are not frequently discussed in other YA novels. Willowdean is an interesting, inspiring access point to understanding one perspective on handling these issues.

Verdict: Affirmed. I loved this book, even if I knew where it was going  for much of the novel. Willowdean was a fresh, relatable protagonist & I recommend this book widely to YA fans.

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