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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Two Summers

I love it when I come across a book that’s different from anything I’ve read before. That’s what I got in Two Summers by Aimee Friedman.

At first glance, this book is simple contemporary YA fiction, but it’s more than that. Without getting too technical, Two Summers explores the possibility of parallel universes and how simple decisions can take us on very different paths. Could those diverging paths lead us to the same place? I guess that depends on the situation, but I enjoyed how things played out in this book, which was essentially two stories–or two summers–in one.

This is going to be a summer to remember…in more ways than one. Summer Everett, a girl for whom very little ever changes, is planning to spend the summer in France with her father. She’s both nervous and excited about this trip. As she’s about to board her flight, Summer’s phone rings, and she has to decide whether or not to answer this call.

Summer ignores her phone.

Soon she’s soaring over the Atlantic, about to spend the summer in Provence, France. She’ll get to spend some time with her father, a painter, and explore the French countryside. What could be more idyllic? Well, for starters, her father could be at the airport to pick her up. He’s not, and Summer soon learns that he’s the one who was trying to call her earlier. He’s in Berlin, and Summer is now virtually on her own in an unfamiliar country.

Summer eventually finds her way to her father’s home, and she’s met by Vivienne, a friend of her father’s, and Eloise, a girl close to Summer’s age who seems to hate her on sight. Things aren’t off to a good start, and they don’t get much better until Summer has a chance encounter with Jacques. Maybe France won’t be so bad after all.

Summer answers her phone.

Her dad wants her to postpone her trip…as she’s about to board the plane. He’s in Berlin, so what’s really the point of going to France if he won’t be there? Summer turns around and makes her way back to boring Hudsonville, New York, for the same old summer she’s always had. That’s not exactly how things work out, though.

Summer’s best friend, Ruby, is drifting away. She’s hanging out with the popular crowd and seems to resent that Summer did not leave for France. What’s Summer to do? Well, for starters, she’s taking a photography class taught by her Aunt Lydia. In this class, she’s exploring her own artistic abilities and getting to know Wren, an eccentric girl from school, and Hugh Tyson, Summer’s long-time crush. Maybe staying home this summer won’t be so bad after all.

Two Summers collide.

In both worlds, Summer is experiencing the first stirrings of love and becoming more comfortable in her own skin. What will happen, though, when a scandalous secret throws her entire life into turmoil? The people who claim to love her the most have been keeping something huge from her, something that changes everything. How can she possibly trust anyone after all is revealed? How can she move on from something so earth-shattering?

Whether in New York or France, this summer will be one that forces Summer Everett to examine her life–her relationships with family and friends, her own abilities, and what’s holding her back from grabbing what she wants. How will these two summers take her where she needs to go? Read this imaginative novel by Aimee Friedman to find out!


I fully enjoyed the concept of Two Summers. Like I said at the beginning of this post, it’s quite unlike anything I’ve read previously, and that, in and of itself, is reason enough for my enjoyment. (A lot of the time, I feel like I’m reading the same story over and over again. I didn’t get that with this book.) Throw in a bit of quantum physics and philosophy, and I’m sold. (Shout out to my book club buddy, Corey, for giving me this book. You did well!)

Two Summers, in my opinion, is a great pick for middle and high school readers. Maybe it will encourage readers of all ages to explore the world around them (and beyond) through photography and examine how the choices they make could lead them on different paths.

To learn more about Two Summers and other books by Aimee Friedman, visit the author’s website. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Watch the Sky

I was just talking to one of my colleagues about my most recent read, Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard, and, in a nutshell, I described it as “kids of Doomsday preppers.” She reminded me that we actually have some of those kids at our school, so I think this book, which comes out on April 7th, will eventually be added to my school library collection.

Watch the Sky is an interesting book–told from the perspective of a young boy–about a rather fascinating (and disturbing, in my opinion) lifestyle choice. Now, I’ve never watched Doomsday Preppers or anything like it–nor do I intend to–but I think this book gives readers a small glimpse into what life may be like for the kids in those situations. It can’t be easy to live in fear all the time while finding some way to balance school, friends, and loyalty to family. That’s what Jory is going through in Watch the Sky

Jory’s stepfather, Caleb, is always telling the family to look out for signs. Signs of what? Jory’s not entirely certain, but Caleb seems to be sure enough for everyone. These mysterious signs could be things like an odd newspaper article, a meteor shower, some dead birds, or even the simplest, seemingly innocent thing. Jory’s not sure what makes something a “sign,” but he trusts Caleb to keep the family safe from danger.

Jory must also do his part to keep his family safe. He must follow all of Caleb’s instructions. He can’t draw too much attention to himself or the family, he always wears heavy work boots, and he can never tell anyone about his sister Kit. And he must make sure to “watch the sky” for signs.

Before long, Caleb becomes convinced that all of his “signs” are pointing to a cataclysmic event, one that the family will need to prepare for. What do those preparations entail? Stockpiling supplies, getting used to eating MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), canning food…and digging. Almost every night, the entire family digs in the canyon beyond their house. Jory’s not sure exactly why or what they’re digging, but this mission soon becomes clear. They are creating a bunker to survive whatever danger Caleb feels is on the way.

While all of this is going on, Jory also has to go to school. He has to worry about keeping his grades up, staying out of trouble, and making friends with a couple of people who won’t let him blend into the background.

It’s hard to balance his schoolwork and friendships with everything happening at home, and Jory is starting to wonder why he should have so much to worry about. Why is Caleb so convinced that danger is coming? If things are really so bad, why aren’t they warning others? Caleb always taught Jory to question everything he was told, but what will happen when Jory begins to question Caleb? Is he prepared to live a life without fear if it means losing his own family? Or will Jory follow Caleb into an uncertain future away from the world around him?

Answer these questions and many more when you read Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard.

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I think Watch the Sky will spark some intriguing conversations with my students. I haven’t read anything like this book before, so it definitely fills a hole (that I didn’t know was there) in my library collection. I would recommend this book for libraries that serve elementary and middle grade readers.

That being said, I did have one big issue with the book. There didn’t seem to be much resolution at the end. I kind of expected what was going to happen, but there just needed to be more. More about what happened to Kit, both before and after her time with Jory’s family. More about how Jory and his family fared after their decision in the canyon. What came next? Maybe these things played out in the final version of the book (I read a galley copy via NetGalley), but I would have liked a bit more clarification.

For more information on Watch the Sky and author Kirsten Hubbard, check out the author’s Goodreads page.

All the Answers

I’m a world-class worrier. I can obsess over the smallest thing and make it into a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. This has been a skill of mine for years (and still drives my mother crazy). I have to force myself to stay away from things like WebMD because a cough is never just a simple cough. In my head, it’s always much, much worse.

No one–including myself sometimes–really understands why I worry so much, so it’s often refreshing for me when I encounter someone–real or fictional–who “gets it.” A couple of days ago, I finished reading a book about a character who definitely “gets it.” In fact, she may worry more than I do. The book is All the Answers by the always entertaining Kate Messner, and the character is young Ava Anderson.

Ava Anderson knows what it means to be anxious. She worries about everything. She panics before every test, and this morning is no different. She’s got a big math test today, and Ava knows she’s going to flub her way through it. She knows the material, but when tests roll around, Ava’s anxiety always gets the best of her. This morning, however, is going to be a little different…

It looks like an ordinary pencil, the kind someone would pick up at a conference or something, but this one turns out to be very different. When Ava grabs it out of her parents’ junk drawer, she has no way of knowing that this pencil is going to change her life.

Ava uses the pencil during her dreaded math test, and, wonder of wonders, when she presents questions to this strange pencil, it gives her the answers! For the first time in forever, Ava feels great about how she performed on a test. But does this magical pencil only work on math questions? Well, Ava and her best friend Sophie are about to find out…

Ava and Sophie soon realize that the special pencil will only answer factual questions, and it won’t answer anything with free will involved. The girls decide to use their new “power” to get some important information. For instance, which boys at school have a crush on Sophie? (This information leads to some rather sticky situations, as you can imagine.) They also use the pencil to figure out what would make Ava’s grandfather and his friends at the nursing home truly happy.

One day, though, Ava asks the pencil a question, and the answer rocks the girl’s entire world. This information has the power to change Ava’s entire family, and Ava can’t stop herself from worrying about what it could mean. Is Ava strong enough to handle what is coming, or will panic take over?

As Ava deals with everything revealed by this mysterious pencil, she begins to wonder if having all the answers is really so important. Does knowing so much make things better, or does it give people even more to obsess over? Can Ava put her worries–and her pencil–aside and finally trust in her own strength? And will that strength get her through the tough times ahead?

For the answers to these questions and many more, read All the Answers by Kate Messner.

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All the Answers, which will be released on January 27th, is a definite purchase for any libraries serving upper elementary and middle grade readers. Many readers will surely identify with Ava’s test anxiety and her worries about navigating the perils of school, friends, and new experiences.

While being a thoroughly entertaining (and totally relatable) book, All the Answers also delivers an important message. Having all the answers may sound awesome, but it’s not the most important thing in life. Yes, a magical pencil like the one in this book may sound appealing, but it could also be a crutch, something that one learns to rely on instead of developing his/her own inner confidence, strength, and faith. (This was really brought home for Ava when she discovered her grandfather’s history with the pencil. It definitely opened her eyes a bit.) There’s nothing out there that can magically erase anxieties, but, like Ava discovered, there are some strategies that can make it easier to deal with.

As I wrap up this post, I’d like to thank NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read another book that I’ll be adding to my school library as soon as it’s released. I’d also like to send my heart-felt gratitude to author Kate Messner for writing another story that so many students will enjoy. I wish I’d had a story like this when I was younger. It would have helped so much to read about a girl who worried about stuff like I did.

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Happy holidays to all of my friends out there! Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts about books this year, and I hope you’ll follow me into next year. I’ll be taking the next couple of days off to bake and spend time with my family, but I’m always reading and looking for more awesome books to share with all of you. So…merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a wonderful winter solstice, and a fun Festivus for the rest of us! (And if you choose not to celebrate any winter holidays, I hope you have an excellent time as well!) Happy reading!

 

Geek High

Geek High is your typical “pink book.” It is targeted to girls, and the story is a predictable tale of high school woes and fumbling romance. What might be a little different, however, is the main character, Miranda. She’s a math genius, and she attends the Notting Hill Independent School for Gifted Children, also known as Geek High. She’s funny, awkward, extremely intelligent, and she’s just been dropped on the doorstep of her estranged father while her flaky mother lives in London for a while.

Life is not so great for Miranda. She’s being forced to live with her evil stepmother and stepsister and a father she barely knows anymore. Her love life is nonexistent. She’s being pressured to be on the math team even though it bores her to tears. One of her best friends is writing a gossip blog that she’s being blamed for, so she’s blackmailed into planning the Geek High’s horrible Snowflake Gala. To make matters worse, the guy she’s been crushing on for two years has the hots for Miranda’s totally abhorrent stepsister, Hannah.

Could anything else go wrong for Miranda? Of course! (This wouldn’t be a high school drama if it didn’t.) But she might just find a way to turn things around. With the help of some friends–and even some “enemies”–Miranda could make things go her way. There even might be hope for her to find a date to the Snowflake Gala. Will this Cinderella story have a happy ending? Find out for yourself when you read Geek High by Piper Banks.

Although this story was predictable, and some of the pop culture references were a bit dated, I thought this was a quick, enjoyable read. If you’re looking for something light with a totally relatable main character, this might be the book for you!

FYI, Geek High is the first in a series of books. I think there are four or five books in this series right now. If you’d like more information on this series and author Piper Banks, visit http://www.piperbanks.com/.

Artichoke’s Heart

It seems to me that there are a lot of young adult novels out there right now about dealing with weight issues.  In the past year, I’ve read Susan Vaught’s Big Fat Manifesto and Mary Hogan’s Pretty Face.  On my “to be read” list, there’s Laure Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls and Madeleine George’s Looks.  All of these novels deal with body image, as does my latest read, Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee.  I have to say that I really enjoyed this book, especially since the author doesn’t sugarcoat what it’s like to be a fat teenager.  It’s not an easy life, and I would know.  I’ve been dealing with weight issues my entire life, so it’s refreshing to read about characters with similar experiences.

Rosemary is defined by her weight.  She is obsessed with how she looks and what she eats, and that seems to be the way the world defines her as well.  She doesn’t understand why it’s okay for everyone in the world to point out how much she’s eating or how much weight she’s gained.  (Amen to that!)  Why can’t they mind their own business?  She knows she’s fat; she doesn’t need to be reminded.  Yes, she would like to have more self control, but no one can fight this battle for her, and she wishes they’d stop trying.

After an overweight family friend suffers two heart attacks and Rosemary’s mom is diagnosed with cancer, Rosemary begins to realize that she has to do something to change the course of her life.  At first, she does things the wrong way (liquid diets and binges), but she eventually begins to exercise and be smarter about what she eats.  It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination, and Rosemary still thinks about food a lot and continues to be tormented by the mean girls at school, but she has a support system there for her:  KayKay, a former popular girl with problems of her own; Kyle, Rosemary’s new boyfriend who loves her just the way she is; her mother who is fighting cancer but is still determined to be there for her daughter; and a bunch of ladies (and two gay men) who work at her mother’s hair salon, Heavenly Hair.  Rosemary’s got a long way to go before she’s truly confident in herself and comfortable with her appearance, but she’s getting there one step at a time.

I found Artichoke’s Heart to be very inspirational, and I think it’s a good selection for anyone, young or old, with body image issues.  I also think this book could shed some light on what goes on in the mind of an overweight teen (self-loathing, disappointment, loneliness, guilt, etc.).  People often don’t realize how hard life is for these teens and that they are really trying to change.  Trust me.  I’ve been there.  (I’m still there.)

Defying the Diva

As someone who was bullied in high school (and still carries some of those emotional scars), I’m usually not a fan of books that center around bullying.  D. Anne Love’s Defying the Diva was a little bit different, though.

At the end of her freshman year in high school, Haley Patterson becomes the target of the school’s worst “mean girl.”  She is picked on, laughed at, gossiped about, and Camilla, the queen bee, sends Haley an email suggesting she kill herself.  Even Haley’s supposed friends turn on her.  In fact, she becomes a pariah at school.  Haley says nothing and just hopes to get through the rest of the school year and leave everything to spend the summer with her aunt.

During the summer, Haley is still dealing with the scars from the previous school year.  It is difficult for her to make friends because she is scared that they will eventually decide she’s worthless and turn on her.  Through her job at a local resort, however, she meets some people who refuse to allow her to hide away.  Through their steadfast friendships, Haley becomes stronger and realizes that she should stand up for herself.

Haley eventually learns that mean girl Camilla has been bullying other girls, and injuries resulted from those actions.  One of Haley’s former friends thinks she should come forward with what happened to her during the school year.  Haley really doesn’t want to relive that pain.   She has to decide whether she should say nothing or fight for herself and prevent Camilla from bullying other girls and getting away with it.  I’ll leave it to you to find out what happens…