Book Review: Dumplin’



Julie Murphy

Balzer + Bray

375 pages

There’s something about swimsuits that make you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.

“Dumplin'” is Willowdean Dickson, aka Will, a 16 year old girl who is stuck between embracing her body and her confidence and hiding from the shame of being a fat girl. Will had been fat her entire life, much to the chagrin of her mother, a former pageant winner and current director of the biggest even of the year: the Miss Clover City Beauty Pageant. Will would never even dream of entering the pageant. It’s overrun by the skinny, popular girls. That’s the status quo and nobody thinks to change it. Until Will and her new group of misfits decides they want to participate, regardless of what everyone else thinks.

Interwoven into the pageant storyline is also a budding teen romance, that between Will and her co worker at a local fast food place, Bo. Being with Bo has all of the fireworks and weak knees you would expect from hormonal teenagers falling for one another, but once again, Will’s insecurities get in the way. Every time Bo touches her, instead of feeling amorous, she feels sick to her stomach. She wrestles with herself over whether to go with her heart or listen to her head.

Lastly, there is the lifelong friendship between Will and Ellen. What started over a love for Dolly Parton has turned into a true friendship. But Will’s insecurities over her body have started to destroy her relationship with Ellen, and the two struggle to decide whether to remain friends or go their own way.

Dumplin’ had a lot of your typical YA story lines. Boy and girl meet and fall for each other. Two friends fight and struggle to overcome their differences. It all felt very fresh though, which I am thankful for because after awhile YA books in general can start to feel stale to me. Will was flawed in such a relatable way. I have read some reviews of Dumplin’ that took her to task for how hard she was about her own body image. Yes, I agree this book is touted as one that displays a bigger girl with a positive body image. Which I do think Will certainly displays at times. But how unrealistic would it be if she didn’t have to fight for that acceptance? As women, don’t we all know the uphill battle we fight with ourselves for body positivity and acceptance? That is what made Dumplin’ so real and raw for me.

I actually just finished Shrill, by Lindy West last night, and I am so glad it within a few weeks of finishing this one. I feel like they are great companions to one another. Lindy is like a grown up, even more kick ass version of Will and I like to think that she would have continued to battle her way to the point where she is not only accepting of herself, but an even bigger voice for others.

Have you read either Dumplin’ or Shrill? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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