Willowdean is fat, and she is okay with that. Her mother, a former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet, is not. She calls Willowdean “Dumplin’,” and points out helpful diet tips and infomercials. Aunt Lucy, who was much warmer to Willowdean than her own mother, died about a year ago, weighing in at over 400 pounds. Her mom wants to turn Lucy’s bedroom into a craft room, but Will wants it to stay the same forever, and she keeps playing Lucy’s Dolly Parton songs over and over.
Will thinks she has it all together, but when changes happen, she is forced to acknowledge her spinning emotions. Working at the local burger joint, Willowdean is shocked when her long-time crush, the totally gorgeous Bo, kisses her by the dumpster during an end-of-the-night trash run. How’s that for romance? Somehow, she feels she is unworthy of Bo, so she starts dating Mitch, a good-boy jock who meets with her friends’ approval. Her mom, as a former winner, is completely consumed by the annual Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant preparation, and when it occurs to Will that her mother has never even suggested that Dumplin’ have anything to do with it, she turns the whole little town upside down by registering as a contestant. She didn’t have a revolution in mind, but every brave misfit in her high school jumps in in solidarity.
Willowdean is a fabulous character. She is fun-loving, sassy, and down-to-earth. As a plus-size librarian— just like the author, Julie Murphy— I was so relieved that this was not a “fat girl overcomes her obvious mental illness, loses weight, and then finds happiness” novel. There are enough of those! Willowdean has some issues, to be sure, and she is finally getting to know herself, but she has loads of friends and two great guys in her life. Part of the tension of the book is hoping that she’ll get herself together in time to make good choices while she still can. Mitch is sweet and vulnerable, but Bo is sizzlin’— and sweet, too! The ending was too abrupt for my liking, but maybe a little ambiguity is a good thing. We can imagine our own ending: “…and they all lived happily ever after—with big hair and red sequins.”
Dumplin’ is a fierce, fun, “You go, girl!” read for 14 and up. There’s a bit of foul language and some discussion of sex.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.