Welcome to my review of Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy! It was the first Book Club book of the year and I’m glad I actually got a chance to read it. Unlike the first book of the year, I really loved this one. It captured my attention from the beginning and held it all the way to the end; earning it a solid 4.5 stars from me. Goodreads only lets me put 4 (boo, GR!) but trust me, if I could, I’d add that half. So are you ready for the deets? Here they are:
For fans of John Green, Rainbow Rowell, and Sarah Dessen comes this powerful novel with a fearless heroine—self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson—from Julie Murphy, the acclaimed author of Side Effects May Vary. With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine, Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.
Dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom, Willowdean 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 girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.
Let me just start by saying that I love, Love, LOVE Willowdean!!! She’s the kind of friend and person that you want by your side for everything. Even when she’s having a totally relate-able spat with her best friend, Ellen, or struggling with her feelings for Bo, you can see her pure heart shine through. She’s confident but also a little unsure of herself. It’s a self doubt that stems from peer and social pressure to BE a certain way and almost every girl and woman knows how that feels. The constant internal struggle to be your authentic self in a world that wants to pigeon hole you based on your looks or background. I mean really, who doesn’t know what that’s like?
I think that’s also why I kind of hated Will’s mom just a teeny bit. Okay, so maybe it was a lot. The small slights and veiled insults and downright emotional blackmail ticked me off. I know there are moms out there like that. Ones that feel life would be better if their daughters looked and acted a certain way. Maybe some of them think they’re pushing their girls to conform for their own good, to make life easier on them when they grow up. If you’re one of those ladies, I’m sorry but you’re SO WRONG! We don’t need to conform to the world. It needs to accept us as we are or get the Hell out of our way! I felt bad for Will when her Mom would open her mouth and I’m so proud that she was able to stand up to her in the end!
*** Woo-Saa*** But I digress…..
In school, I’ll freely admit that I was not on the chubby or curvy side like Will. In fact, due to my Crohn’s, my body image struggle was the opposite. Food was the enemy because every time I ate, I was in insane pain. I desperately NEEDED the weight though and was basically a stick the whole 4 years; full of odd angles, hollow eyes, and clearly defined bones sticking out. Nonetheless, like most teen girls, I compared myself to the ones everyone seemed to want to be. I didn’t have the hips or boobs or long legs or perfect tan. I was short and pale and often too exhausted to worry about makeup or doing my hair. Anything that showed more skin than was necessary terrified me too! I longed for attention from boys but the minute I got it, I was awkward and weird and leaned more towards best friend material than blazing hot girlfriend. In summary, high school wasn’t the highlight of my life! But as I said earlier, despite her reasons for feeling the way she did, I knew her thoughts. I knew her pain and resentment with the world. I knew those boys and girls she went to school with because they were in mine too. I can even appreciate the love for Dolly Pardon! Hello, ‘Jolene’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’!!
Another thing I enjoyed about this book was that while there was some romance, it wasn’t THE WHOLE story. This is first, and foremost, about Will’s journey. Bo was great. I loved Bo even though he fumbled big time early in their relationship and I wanted to smack him. I love that Bo never cared about her weight and only loved her for who she was as a person. But Bo’s character was more of a tool used to give us insight into Will. Don’t get me wrong, he was fully fleshed out and didn’t feel like a prop. It was just never completely about him or them as a couple. That was purely secondary to the main plot. Their relationship simply showed how she felt about herself. It gave us a lens to understand the depths of her insecurity and it totally worked. I get annoyed sometimes when a book that’s supposed to be about character development gets mired in the love story. If I wanted a romance, I’d read a romance. But Dumplin’ did one of the better jobs of staying true the main point than a lot of books I’ve read lately and I really appreciated that!
So why 4 stars instead of 5? Truthfully? The ending. It just sort of… ended. Like Ms. Murphy was coming up on a deadline and need to finish it quickly. The whole book was this huge build-up to the Beauty Pageant and within like, 10 or 15 pages, it was over. I mean, the ending made sense but I felt with all the time and effort she put into the rest of the story, the last bit would’ve been a bit more. Not a cliff hanger, but I felt like I was left hanging. You know what I mean? I wanted to know what happened with her Mom afterwards. I wanted to know the girls that competed with her. I wanted some concrete resolution between Will and Bo (although in my head they’re smiling in the front seat of his truck). There’s supposed to be a follow-on book but it’s not about Will so doubt I’ll get my questions answered. Oh, well. That’s why I deducted a star.
Ultimately, Ms. Murphy’s story telling is perfect and I would highly recommend that everyone give it a try. The story is funny, sweet, honest, at times heartbreaking, and even a little swoon worthy here and there. Completely worth the 400 page, paperback purchase!