by Julie Murphy
Balzer + Bray, 2015. 384 pgs. Young Adult
Willowdean Dickson is fat, and she’s perfectly comfortable saying it. It complicates her life, though. Her former beauty queen mom can be distant and critical, especially during pageant season, her crush can’t seem to figure out if he actually wants to date her, and she can’t really talk about her insecurities with her thin best friend, Ellen. Willow also misses her recently deceased Aunt Lucy terribly, but she has their shared love of Dolly Parton to pull her through. Fed up with feeling not quite good enough and inspired by Dolly’s unbreakable confidence, Willowdean enters the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant and faces her insecurities.
In other online reviews, I have seen Dumplin’ praised for being body positive and attacked for being body negative. To me, though, it just seemed honest. Willowdean does have a lot of confidence for a teenage girl and often loves her body, but she also has some deep-seated body insecurities. She mentally criticizes other girls for the way they look or act, and she can judge skinny girls pretty harshly. Some of the negative reviews that criticized Willowdean for acting this way struck me as being written by people who never finished the book, though, since these are the very shortcomings that Willowdean comes to recognize in herself and work on.
The storyline is definitely teen chick lit, which is not my typical genre, but the honest way Julie Murphy depicts Willowdean’s self-image really resonated with me and kept me reading. Cautious readers should be aware that Dumplin’ has some strong language, discussions of sex, and several interactions with Dolly Parton-impersonating drag queens.