Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Dumplin’ by Julie MurphyDumplin' by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer + Bray on September 15, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Humor, Romance
Pages: 384
Format: eBook
Source: Edelweiss
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four-stars

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.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Dumplin’ has been a long time coming. Sure, there have been some books about fat girls and embracing your body, but I don’t think there’s been one quite like Dumplin. In this case, you can totally judge the book by it’s cover: look at Willowdean, in her dress, looking fabulous and proud of who she is! Most books with fat girl heroines don’t put a girl on the cover, instead using bubble letters or food to represent her weight. In Dumplin’, there’s finally a book about how a girl can totally be a fat badass.

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I do think the hype affected my opinion of Dumplin’ a little bit. While I was very impressed, the voice wasn’t as voicey as I’d expected and it didn’t really hit me in the feels like I thought it would. That said, Dumplin’ is objectively a good book and a story that needed to be told. The beauty of the message is inextricably tied up with every other aspect, but I don’t think the message outshines everything else. This isn’t one of those books where the characters are merely vehicles for their message.

Willowdean, called Dumplin’ by her mother, really loves herself most of the time. She’s confident, and she doesn’t mind being fat; it’s who she is, and she doesn’t see why that should mean she deserves less than other girls. Despite the fact that her mom has tried to force her onto diets and has always subtly shamed her for her weight, Will doesn’t want to change. She’s very lucky to have had her Aunt Lucy, who always made her feel perfect just the way she is. Lucy’s death has left Will’s foundations a bit shaky, and she’s not really sure how to interact with her mom or how to feel about herself. Dumplin’ is Willowdean’s journey to figuring out who she is again and regaining her confidence.

What really stands out about Willowdean is that she’s a good person but she’s not always a great person. Like, she does everything while being a normal girl: sometimes bitchy, often stubborn, unsure of herself. It’s not like she wins everyone over because she has the most perfect personality known to mankind. She gets in a fight with Ellen that is 100% her own fault, something she doesn’t admit for a long time. During the book, she makes some other poor choices, and, though the other girls who entered the pageant as a statement turn to her as a leader, it’s clear that she’s not one. Willowdean also has a tendency to run away from her problems, like by changing jobs or trying to quit the pageant. She gets to be real and flawed and fat and beautiful and it’s magical.

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Will and her best friend Ellen are huge fans of Dolly Parton. I thought this was a bit weird when the book opened talking about Dolly Parton, ngl, but it ends up being perfect. For Will, Dolly is her idol of body positivity. Dolly’s been made fun of for her choices with her body (most notably plastic surgery), but Dolly loves herself exactly the way she is; her body is how she wants it and who gives a fuck about the opinions of others. Dumplin’ is not just about Will finding peace with her shape; Millie, Amanda, and Hannah also decide to join Will in the beauty pageant.

The plot of the fat or awkward girls entering a beauty pageant could easily have gone very badly, but Murphy handles everything beautifully. I really love how the beauty pageant plot line resolved. It’s not easy, and the girls do face a lot of criticism, but they come out of it feeling stronger and having changed a few people’s opinions. Willow’s mom especially has learned something by Willow entering the competition. She’ll probably never stop wishing her daughter was shaped more like her, but I think she has a new appreciation for the beauty of her daughter, both inside and out.

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The romance, while not a super ship for me, was really great. The fat girl gets a super hot guy, not because she won him over with personality first, but because he thinks she’s gorgeous. Hallelujah. Bo’s got it bad for Willowdean, and I love that. Their casual relationship at the start of the novel is part of what sends Willowdean into a spiral of insecurity, but it’s all in Will’s head. Their relationship at the start had issues for sure, but Will made some assumptions about Bo based on his appearance that turned out not to be true. Once he determines to win her back, the cuteness is high. I only wish there’d been a bit less of an open ending there, but oh well.

Looking for a read about loving yourself just the way you are? Get Dumplin’. I hope teens everywhere read it, and adults too, because we can all use a dose of body positivity.

Favorite Quote:

“Mom, I feel good.” My voice starts out even and calm. “This dress makes me feel like someone I didn’t know I could be. I’ve never owned anything like it. But if when you see this—when you see me—you think it’s a pity, that it’s a shame I didn’t lose a few, then screw you, Mom. Try harder.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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2 responses to “Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy”

  1. Kayla Beck says:

    I think the Whitney gifs alone make me want to read this book more.
    Kayla Beck recently posted…Spotlight (Interview): The Power of 10 by Rugger Burke #selfhelp @powerof10 @jkslitpublicity @angellebarbazonMy Profile

  2. Lyn Kaye says:

    I met the author when she came up for Leigh Bardugo’s book event, and she appeared super sweet and just oozed this kind of charm. I am so excited to read this book! I feel like my stack is going to crush me, but I am GOING to have to sneak away for this one, because it was a highly anticipated novel for this year.
    Lyn Kaye recently posted…Book Review: Library of SoulsMy Profile

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