Dumplin’

Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ had been on my to-read list for a while. I finally decided to read it when it was placed on the nominee list for next year’s South Carolina Young Adult Book Award. I finished the book a couple of days ago, and I found it to be extremely relatable, especially if you’re a big girl living in the South (or anywhere, really). I, for one, saw some of my own high school experiences reflected in the life of one Willowdean “Dumplin'” Dickson. Maybe you will too.

Willowdean Dickson is a fat girl. She knows it; she owns it. What does it really matter anyway? She’s relatively happy. She’s got a wonderful best friend, Ellen, who’s as close as a sister and shares her love of Dolly Parton. She’s got a decent job at a local fast food joint where she gets to ogle Bo, a guy who, oddly enough, seems to like her as much as she likes him. Everything’s just peachy, right?

Well, not really.

Soon, Will’s insecurities about her size start to interfere with her life, much like they did for her beloved Aunt Lucy, who recently passed away. Will is increasingly frustrated with Ellen, who doesn’t really get what it’s like to live in a large body. Will feels Ellen drawing away from her and toward Callie, a girl who makes her disdain for Will pretty obvious. Will also doesn’t quite trust Bo’s feelings for her. She freezes when he gets too familiar with her body, and she doesn’t understand why a guy like him would want to be with a big girl. On top of all this, her mother, who Will doesn’t really connect with, is gearing up for her long-time obsession, the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant.

The Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant is everything to many of the girls in Will’s town. Will’s mother was a former pageant winner, and she never lets anyone forget it. When going through her aunt’s old papers one day, Will discovers that Lucy, who always struggled with her weight, also wanted to enter the pageant, but she never took that risk. Will, in the blink of an eye, decides to step out on that ledge and do what her aunt wouldn’t. She enters the pageant…and her world turns upside down.

Suddenly, a bunch of other girls–girls who wouldn’t normally enter a beauty pageant–are following in Will’s lead. Will doesn’t want to start a whole movement or anything, but that may not be up to her anymore. Ellen has also entered the pageant, and that puts a strain on her relationship with Will, especially considering that Ellen actually has a shot of winning.

Will’s mom doesn’t think her daughter is taking the pageant seriously, and that adds a whole other level of drama to what is quickly becoming more chaos than Will can handle. And when she’s already dealing with boy issues, Will is wondering if she’s bitten off more than she can chew.

There’s only one question Will needs to answer at this point: What would Dolly do?

As Will begins to more fully embrace who she is, she comes to value the new friends she’s made during this pageant madness, but she also looks to repair the damaged relationships in her life. Those between her and her mom, Ellen, and Bo. She’s not going to let anything–including her own issues and insecurities–come between her and what she wants anymore.


I’ve spent my entire life as the fat best friend, so I 100% related to much of what Will experienced in Dumplin’. I still have major anxiety about eating in front of other people, showing any part of my body, and a bunch of other issues that I won’t get into here. It was not at all difficult for me to place myself in the main character’s shoes (or in her late aunt’s, for that matter). I’ve had fights with friends (mostly thin girls) who simply didn’t understand that my experiences were different from theirs. They didn’t worry about getting made fun of every time they walked down the hall, got up in front of a class, or stepped out of their comfort zone. So, yeah, I get Willowdean.

Having said all that, I will say that some of her experiences were beyond me. I am not now nor have I ever been a pageant girl. I’ve never understood the appeal. (Apologies to my friends and family members who are all about this stuff.) I’ve also never had to worry about attracting the attention of a “hot guy,” unless it was negative attention, mostly bullying.

While I do relate to Will in this book, I also think parts of it, especially the ending, are a little too neat. Everything kind of wraps up in a nice, neat little bow, and that’s just not how things work in the real world. I also think that Will could have done a bit more self-reflection, examining her somewhat hypocritical views on the girls around her, particularly those also competing in the pageant.

Even with a couple of things that gave me pause, I do think Dumplin’ is a great book. There’s none of that “fat girl only becomes happy when she loses weight” nonsense, which is a major plus. I look forward to seeing more of Willowdean and company in future books. (There’s supposed to be a sequel to Dumplin’ sometime next year.)

Given that there’s some salty language and pretty frank talk of sexy times, I do think Dumplin’ is suited to a teen/high school audience. I probably wouldn’t place it in a middle school library.

To learn more about Dumplin’ and Julie Murphy, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube.

Finally, if you like Dumplin’, you might want to read Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg.

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Slob

I am on a roll.  I’ve finished three books in two days.  (One of them was a really thin children’s book that I didn’t blog about, but I’m still going to toot my own horn.  After all, if I don’t, who will?)  Today, I finished reading Slob by Ellen Potter.  This was an easy, quick read that would be perfect for readers from upper elementary through high school.  Adults will enjoy it, too.  I would especially recommend this book to boys (and some girls) who may be seen as outsiders, particularly those students who are often the victims of bullies.  They will really relate to the struggles of the main character.

In Slob, we meet Owen Birnbaum, a twelve-year-old genius who happens to be the fattest kid at his school.  (I can totally relate…except I’m not twelve or a boy.)  Everyday is torture.  Even his gym teacher seems to enjoy tormenting him.  (I can relate to this, too.  I still shudder when I think about my middle school gym teacher.)  As if things weren’t already bad enough, someone keeps stealing his Oreo cookies, and the new kid, believed to be a complete psychopath, seems to be out to get Owen.

But Owen has even more to deal with that simply being bullied at school.  He’s working on an invention that will change the world and, perhaps more importantly, Owen’s life.  If it works, it will allow him to see something that happened two years ago, something that set Owen on his current course.  If Owen can just get the machine, lovingly named Nemesis, to work, he knows things will be better.  Sure, he’ll still be the fat kids who’s always picked on, but he’ll at least have the answers that have been plaguing him for two years.

As Owen grows more and more frustrated with his machine and the torture of being laughed at everyday, he must decide if he’s going to live in the past or deal with the present.  Only one path can make his life different.  Which one will it be?  Read Slob by Ellen Potter to find out!

In the past, I’ve read a lot of “fat girl fiction,” but this may be one of the first books I’ve read that offers a male perspective of how life is when you’re the “fat kid.”  In many ways, the experiences are similar, but there are some differences.  Gym class, for instance, seems to be much more humiliating from the male perspective.  Granted, it was bad for me, but not completely unbearable.  Owen’s experiences were absolutely horrible.  I would have done almost anything to avoid what he went through.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy Slob as much as I did, and if you’d like more information about this book and author Ellen Potter, visit http://www.ellenpotter.com/.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Before I begin delving into the wonder that is Will Grayson, Will Grayson, let me preface things by saying that I strongly feel that this book is for more mature readers.  It deals quite candidly with issues of homosexuality, friendship, depression, and everything that might go along with those issues.  The authors, John Green and David Levithan, really don’t hold anything back, and some readers may not be able to handle that.  So…make sure you can deal with the issues presented in this book before you pick it up.

Okay. Disclaimer over.  On to the fun part.

Even though they live mere miles apart, Will Grayson and will grayson have never met.  (The capitalization, or lack thereof, is intentional.  This is often how the two Wills are distinguished in the book.)  That’s all about to change.  On a weird night in Chicago that is fraught with disappointment for both of our boys, Will meets will in a rather odd location, and worlds collide.  Both Wills are dealing with their own issues, some serious, some not-so-much, and their lives begin to intertwine on this cold Chicago night.

Will Grayson’s best friend is the large and fabulously gay Tiny Cooper.  Tiny is a star football player and musical theater enthusiast.  When will grayson comes face to face with Tiny, sparks ignite, and life for both Wills gets a little complicated.  Will’s best friend, Tiny, is now involved with will.  (Confused yet?)  Now Will Grayson is a little jealous that Tiny is spending so much time with will grayson.  Relationships are changing, and neither Will is really comfortable with this.  On top of all of this, Tiny Cooper is trying to write, produce, direct, and star in the most fabulously wonderful high school musical in history, and, of course, it’s based on his life (and the lives of those around him).  What will happen to Will Grayson, will grayson, and the force of nature that is Tiny Cooper?  I’ll leave that for you to find out.

I am fully aware that this post has not even come close to doing justice to this book.  I truly loved this book, but it’s really difficult to describe Will Grayson, Will Grayson in just a couple hundred words.  John Green and David Levithan have done a wonderful job of showing how two boys’ lives can intersect and how one person can impact them so dramatically.  Sensitive subjects are dealt with frankly and with humor.  Some novels fall short on this, but Will Grayson, Will Grayson excels in giving most, if not all, readers someone to relate to.  Highly recommended.

Fat Cat

When I first started reading Fat Cat by Robin Brande, I was expecting a typical “fat girl fiction” book.  I was pleasantly surprised, however, as the book progressed.  I honestly could not put this book down.  I was invested in Cat’s story, and I wanted to see if her experiment would really change her life.  I’m actually going through a similar situation myself, and this book actually inspired me to keep at it.

Cat is fat.  She knows this, but she is doesn’t really know what to do about it.  Until she begins working on her super-huge science project.  When she’s faced with the dilemma of developing a project centered around early hominins, Cat decides to live like they did.  She’s going to eat all natural foods and avoid technology as much as possible for the next 207 days.   Hopefully, she can prove that not only is all the junk food and stuff bad for the human race, but it’s reversing human evolution.

Cat knows her project will be hard on her, but, at times, it’s not even about the project anymore.  It’s about being healthier and happy with herself.  It’s about finally feeling like she’s more than just a smart girl.  It’s about finally facing all the people who’ve called her fat.  What will become of this project?  Will Cat win the science fair?  Will she finally be happy with herself no matter what happens?  Read Fat Cat by Robin Brande to find out.

Again, I loved this book.  I really enjoy how Robin Brande can integrate science into young adult literature.  She did it with Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature, and she’s done it again with Fat Cat.  If you like science or books dealing with food and body image issues, I strongly urge you to read Fat Cat.