Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publishing Date: September 15
Genre: young adult, contemporary
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.
Willowdean is a fat girl and perfectly fine with that, thank you very much. She doesn’t see “fat” as a negative word, just a descriptor like “tall” and “brown-haired.” But the summer she starts working at Harpy’s makes her incredibly self-aware of her size, because now hot boy Bo has his eyes set on her. It’s obvious why she likes him, but she can’t help but wonder what he sees in her. Her confidence declines, her beautiful best friend Ellen fades away from her life, and Will misses her aunt so much it hurts. So she decides to do the one thing that would shock her beauty-queen mother most: enter the Miss Clover City beauty pageant along with several other outcast girls. Nowhere on the application does it say “fat, crippled, and buck-teeth girls need not apply,” and every girl deserves a chance at a pageant. Navigating, friendship, body talks, grief, confidence, Dolly Parton songs, and strutting with drag queens, Will’s life turns upside down and back on track as she embraces her strengths.
Rarely do I read a book that I connect with on so many levels and yet be completely disconnected from as well. I’m not a big girl by any means. In fact, I’m a little underweight for my height and age. That doesn’t mean I don’t understand body shaming. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think of my gorgeous, talented, hilarious, intelligent, active friend…who also happens to be a big girl. She’s got the perfect fat girl figure, and I’m so jealous of that — because she owns it, she’s confident, and she very much reminds me of Willowdean. Sometimes she wonders what men see in her, and I can’t help but give her this look like, “Honey? Seriously?”
Will’s dilemma throughout the book isn’t that she’s fat, not really. She doesn’t hate her body, and she’s not unhealthy. She’s living life like every other teen girl: she’s good in school, she’s got a job, and she’s obsessed with Dolly Parton. It’s the other factors in her life that make her wonder how to navigate being fat. It never occurred to her that a gorgeous former jock (whose jaw can cut glass) would like her, and when he does she’s both thrilled and disgusted (because if he likes her, he’ll want to kiss her, and then touch her, and hold her hand, and the thought of the two of them touching and holding hands freaks her out because look at him and then look at her and how does a guy like him get a girl like her — you see where this distructive thought process comes in?).
It also never hit her till she signed up for the pageant that all the beauty queens were tall and thin and Western definition of beauty. But the application doesn’t say a girl of a certain height and weight and bone structure can’t join the pageant. So she signs up — and her mother, who runs the event, nearly tells her not to. Will calls her out on it, saying if her own mother and pageant judge says she can’t sign up, then she’s also saying her daughter isn’t good enough and beautiful enough.
By fighting the stigma, Will grows more confident in her skin. Watching this blossom throughout the book is so incredibly heartwarming, it makes me want to hug her and strut a runway alongside her. It’s no wonder Bo’s in love with her, or why Ellen depends on her so much. As a reader, you can see why people like Will, even if she doesn’t see it herself. It’s never about her body to the outsider (how many times did Bo say this to her? A million? And how many times did I fall in love with him? A million and one?), but she makes it about her body. Joining her on this journey of body acceptance and body confidence was encouraging, uplifting, and so universal to every girl of every size.
Positive. Hilarious. Sweet. Sassy. Deep.
This book is like a cool glass of sweet tea on a hot Texas summer evening. It’s refreshing and perfect and just what you didn’t know you needed.
Thank you, Balzer + Bray and HarperCollins, for providing this book at BEA for review!