Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Dumplin by Julie Murphy

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

Title: Dumplin’
Author: Julie Murphy
Publication date: September 15, 2015

If Dumplin’ was a movie, Willowdean would be the funny sidekick. Or she would lose a lot of weight and get a makeover, which would make her suddenly beautiful, and the most popular boy in town, who she has had a crush on for years, would finally notice her. That doesn’t happen in the book. Willow DOES attract a hot guy, but she doesn’t have to lose weight or change her image to do it. They work at a fast food restaurant together, they get to know each other, and they end up making out. A lot.

We don’t really get to know Bo that well, but I love him. One thing that does bother me about their relationship, though, is that it’s a secret. It’s basically just the two of them making out in his truck late at night after work. They drive around and they talk, but they don’t go out in public together or tell anyone about their relationship. I don’t think Bo is ashamed of her, and Willow certainly never tries to make the relationship public either — she never even brings it up — but it’s not a sign of a healthy relationship.

There’s also a love triangle with another guy interested in Willow. I like Mitch too, and I don’t really care for the way Willow treats him sometimes, stringing him along while she pines for Bo. Mitch doesn’t deserve that even if she’s not ready to admit to anyone, not even herself, that she still wants Bo.

The actual pageant is the least interesting part of the book, but it’s necessary because it ties everything together: Willow’s issues with her mother (who runs the pageant), her social problems at school, and the feelings about her weight that Willow doesn’t realize she has. There’s a lot to explore there. Her aunt Lucy has recently died. Lucy was overweight herself — and not just obese, but around five hundred pounds — but she seemed happy to Willow. It’s only as Willow goes on this journey into pageantry and self-discovery that she starts to realize that Lucy’s weight, and more importantly, the way she felt about it, may have been holding her back and stopped her from doing some of things she wanted to do.

I’ve been kind of distant from the blogging community the past six months or so, and I hadn’t heard of Dumplin’ until release date. I happened to be on Tumblr a lot that day and saw post after post about it. It looked interesting so I added it to Goodreads, got on the waiting list at the library, and forgot about it. When it came in, I was a little apprehensive, afraid it might be the kind of book to beat you over the head with a message about body positivity and fat-shaming. I don’t like to be preached to unless I’m sitting in a church. I’m glad I didn’t let that stop me because I really enjoyed the book and its main character. Willow’s not perfect – she’s judgmental as hell for one thing – but she’s very relatable.

4 stars