Book Review: Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
“Sometimes figuring out who you are means understanding that we are a mosaic of experiences. I’m Dumplin’. And Will and Willowdean. I’m fat. I’m happy. I’m insecure. I’m bold.”
I have long wanted to read Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. When I saw the trailer for the Netflix movie with Jennifer Aniston, I knew I needed to read it before the movie comes out. So I got the ebook from the library via Libby and flew through it. Dumplin’ is the story of Willowdean Dickson, a sixteen year old in Clover City, Texas. She is fat but doesn’t have any problems with being overweight; she is confident in who she is. But when her crush at work Bo suddenly kisses her and she realizes he actually likes her, her confidence is shaken; what will people say when they see perfect Bo with fat Willowdean? The thing with Bo sends her down a trail of self-worth issues. Her aunt recently died, and she and her mother do not really understand one another now that Lucy is gone. She and her best friend Ellen begin to drift apart, and Willowdean’s life gets a little sideways. So she decides to enter her mother’s beloved Miss Clover City Teen Blue Bonnet pageant to prove a point; what she doesn’t expect is to find herself in the process.
I have long been a fan of young adult literature, and Dumplin’ is definitely one of my favorites. So much of YA literature is all about finding yourself and figuring out who you are, and Dumplin’ is one of the best examples I’ve seen so far in the genre. Yes, there’s a love story (which I’m always here for), but the most important part of the story is Willowdean figuring out who she is and grappling with growing older. Her aunt Lucy’s death has really impacted her life, and her mom wanting to donate Lucy’s stuff really rubs Willowdean the wrong way. She feels her mom is just trying to forget about Lucy and doesn’t understand why they can’t keep Lucy’s stuff. Lucy was a huge Dolly Parton fan and passed along her love of Dolly to Willowdean and Ellen. I love how no matter what kind of mood Willowdean is in, she can always find a Dolly Parton song to cheer her up or match how she feels.
Dumplin’ is a lovely example of body positivity and is so important for women to read, especially young girls. Willowdean is fat, her aunt Lucy was extremely obese, and even her beauty pageant mom was fat when she was younger before losing a bunch of weight and going on to win the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant. Even though Willowdean is comfortable being fat, her weight is an unspoken issue with her mom. Some of the most intense moments of the book are between Will and her mom. As horrible as it would be to live in those moments, it makes for wonderful conflict and sets up Will for such an amazing ending for herself. Will’s mom calls her Dumplin’, and she hates that nickname. Her mom cannot understand how Will is okay with her body, but Will is just comfortable in her skin. Even throughout the pageant, she feels good about herself in her body; it’s just the other things going on around her that cause anxiety. I also loved the other girls that Will befriended because of the pageant. Millie is also fat, but is one of the kindest and sweetest people Will has ever met. Amanda has a pretty noticeable limp, but has incredible soccer skills. Hannah has buckteeth, but is one of the sassiest and most sarcastic characters in the book. I loved how complex all the characters were in Dumplin’, but Will and the other outcast pageant girls were my favorites.
Willowdean’s relationship with Ellen was my favorite part of Dumplin’. As I’ve said before, I love when female friendships play such a prominent role in a story; it is wonderful to see in adult fiction, but almost more important in young adult fiction. Girls can be so catty towards one another, especially in high school, so it is lovely to see female friendships highlighted and prized. Will and Ellen have been best friends for years, thanks to Ellen’s mom and Lucy both being huge Dolly Parton fans. When Will’s confidence is shaken and then Ellen and her boyfriend Tim have sex, Will begins to feel left behind by Ellen. And instead of talking it out, they get into a huge fight. But Will and Ellen both want to work it out. I appreciate that they are committed more to each other than they are with boys or the pageant.
If you are interested in checking out the Netflix movie, I would definitely recommend reading Dumplin’ first. This is truly a delightful book, and I think it is such an important book for teens and adults alike. I cannot wait for the movie, so in the meantime, I’ll just listen to Dolly on repeat. I adore Dumplin’ and give it 4 stars.
What are some other books with great portrayals of body positivity?