Author: Julie Murphy
Links: Indiebound |Goodreads
Summary: Somehow this book managed to feel light and fun, but also include well-developed characters and tackle tough issues.
“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.” (Source) However, a surprising romance with the sexy jock Bo makes Will doubt herself rather than raising her confidence. And this summer, that’s only one of the many things pushing her and her traditionally beautiful best friend, Ellen, apart. To regain her confidence and hopefully her best friend, Willowdean decides to do “the most horrifying thing she can imagine” and enter the Miss Clover City beauty pageant.
I picked this up for Platypire’s Diversity Challenge (January theme – body positivity), so I definitely approached this book with that theme in mind. One of the things I immediately loved about this story is that all of the characters are a realistic mix of good and bad qualities. There is no cliched beautiful mean girl or funny best friend in this book. Will herself is a mess of believable, teenage contradictions – kind, well intentioned and mostly comfortable with herself, but sometimes driven to make bad decisions or start fights because of her own insecurities. Her friendship with Ellen and their fight is equally believable. I could clearly see where both girls were both right and wrong and mostly just could have used better communication. Importantly for my enjoyment of the book, even the most flawed of characters never made decisions so stupid that I found them unrealistic.
In terms of being body positive, I thought this book generally did a great job. There was definitely an emphasis on being happy with yourself and not letting insecurities prevent you from living a full life. I think the book might have been even more of an argument for body positivity had the author not left us plenty of room to imagine Will as merely curvy and self-conscious rather than what anyone other than she herself would describe as fat. There is another character who is described as heavier than Will though and her story does also promote body positivity, so maybe I’m being too critical here. Perhaps the most important thing is that this book describes multiple diverse characters, including those with widely varying body types, struggling with realistic high school issues and each reaching their own happy ending. All while providing a delightfully entertaining read, no less! Highly recommended.