Beauty pageants, red lolly pops and lashes of Dolly Parton. We review the book that sparked the Netflicks film – Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy.
Dumplin’ – the blurb
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 girl does. Along the way, she ll shock the hell out of Clover City and maybe herself most of all.
Paint you happy ever after
I started this book thinking I already knew the ending. We were going to meet Willowdean, she was going to enter a beauty pageant, she was going to win said pageant, and the good looking boy whilst overcoming various hurdles along the way.
Except that wasn’t Dumplin’. At the start Willowdean is already a confident, happy girl who has a best friend, a part time job and seems to be coping just fine with High School. Not your usual opening for a coming of age young adult novel. “The only way the world seems to be okay with putting a fat person on camera is if they’re miserable with themselves or if they’re the jolly best friend. Well, I’m neither of those things.” Sure there is a lot of internalising going on and some sizzling romantic tension, practically a necessity in most YA reads. But Willow is different and therefore so is Dumplin’.
What Willow does struggle with is the judging and teasing of her peers when it comes to body types that are not deemed “beautiful” by society. She sets out to change that, by joining a beauty pageant, and inspires other girls deemed “not beautiful” to join her. The characters Murphy includes are wide ranging, every size, shape, colour and religion seem to be included. All have their own issues, all are dealing with them and it was refreshing to read such positivity. Yes there was a bitch who liked to stir it, but she was very much a sideline rather than the crux of it.
Just a lil’ ole bitty pissant country place
I loved Willow, her confidence, her doubts. I loved the numerous references to Dolly Parton and generally just reading about teenage life in Texas. Murphy clearly knows Texas well and writes it with much affection. I’m not going to spoil the ending for you but I thought Murphy nailed it. Dumplin’ was uplifting and self affirming and I strongly recommend any teen struggling with body confidence to read it. It’s not a teen only book though, there is plently for adults to take from it.
I will always love you
Dumplin’ is without doubt one of my favourite YA novels of the year. Book two, Puddin‘ is out now and has recently been added to my TBR shelf! If you would like to check out some of my other favourite YA novels have a look at Holes by Louis Sachar.