Sunday, January 10, 2016

Book Review: Dumplin'

This young adult novel has several things going for it. First off, I believe the author nailed an authentic voice. It is told with great candor and honesty from the perspective of an overweight teenage girl. It is equal parts sad and humorous. And finally, the plot keeps you hanging on to find out what will happen to this dynamic main character.

Willowdean Dickson's beauty queen mother calls her "Dumplin'" as a term of affectionate playfulness because Willowdean is large and fleshy. While she has always been comfortable in her own skin, Willowdean begins to question things about herself when she falls for Private School Bo, a fellow workmate at the Harpy's fast food joint. He seems equally attracted and instead of giving her confidence a boost, it throws Willowdean off center. Is Bo's interest true or is he primarily focused on keeping her a secret from his friends?

While her mother is preparing to direct the annual Miss Teen Blue Bonnet beauty pageant, Willowdean is wondering why she can't enter the competition as well. Together with several other misfits, Willowdean enters the pageant as a statement about the beauty in all figures and shapes. She begins to channel the confidence she hopes to have ("fake it until you make it").

There were several quote-worthy moments: "There's something about swimsuits that make you think you've got to earn the right to wear them. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it." And - "First kiss. It's the fastest thing that lasts forever." And - "All my life I've had a body worth commenting on. And if living in my skin has taught me anything it's that if it's not your body, it's not yours to comment on. Fat, skinny, short, tall, it doesn't matter."

Heads up: There are discussions of sexuality. The subject of losing virginity is treated as simply a normal thing that happens to teen girls. The girls visit a cross-dressing gay bar. So, there are some unsavory bits, but the story is still a valuable one.

The book will cause you to question your own responses to overweight people. Would you respond with skepticism the way Willowdean anticipates others responding to her pairing with the eminently attractive Bo? The book's premise is simple: we are all equally deserving of happiness, no matter our shape or size. Differences aren't good or bad, they are simply different and it is imperative to come to terms with whatever appearance we've been given and to shine with confidence from internal worth that has nothing to do with external appearances. This book is an important manifesto for teens who struggle with self-confidence because of the reactions of others to their differences. It is well-written and painfully honest. It touches on grief, self-esteem, prejudice, and parental acceptance. Despite the heavy subject matter (sorry for the pun), the message shines through with humor and lighthearted fun.

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