So, before we talk about either of these books, let’s talk about the one awesome thing they have in common: they break the apparent “norm” in YA where the character is thin and gorgeous. But- and this is the most important part- these girls aren’t some kind of ugly ducklings hiding in a burlap sack either. Hell. No. Willowdean and Ashley are both lovely girls who have a ton of things going for them. They have friends, they’re smart, they have drive. They show the world that heavier girls can be just as amazing and badass as anyone else. And for that alone I recommend these books.

They also don’t sugarcoat. People can be cruel, and these girls aren’t dumb. They know the mean words that have been spoken about their appearances and they are absolutely self conscious of it. The short version? Both of these books are fabulously real.

I don’t hesitate to say that I am with certainty not the only one among us whose had a big dose of body shaming in their life. Whether it’s from the outside, whether it’s internal, whether it’s both, a great deal of us have felt it. I grew up thinking I was the fattest fatty in all the land. Ironically, I wasn’t! But I didn’t know that. When you’re a kid and you are told you’re fat, you see yourself as fat.

Uhhh, someone call the fat police? No?

Uhhh, someone call the fat police? No?

The irony of course is that now, as an adult, I am overweight, no question about it, and my coping skills are for shit. I try not to let my daughter hear any of my self-loathing because I never, ever want her to feel like I did/do. Books like these are certainly a step in the right direction, but until the day comes when we can stop shaming each other, and most importantly, ourselves, we’ll never stop needing these books.

Onto the reviews!

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer + Bray on September 15th 2015
Pages: 384

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 twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine— Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Dumplin’ is kind of adorable. Willowdean is pretty adorable. Her group of friends are adorable. Clearly, I’m going to use “adorable” a lot to sum this book up. But it is. That’s the bottom line.

See? So cute.

Will has all kinds of stuff going on in this book, certainly way more than just being overweight. Her mom is like, Queen of the Pageant, and in Texas, that is apparently a big deal. Her aunt, who was basically her support system, died at a young age not long ago from weight-related complications. Her best friend is kind of acting shady, and she’s got a big old crush on Bo, the dude who works with her.

So you know, let’s join said beauty pageant with as many other “pageant atypical” females you can gather! It’s fun, and charming, and for other characters it probably wouldn’t work so well, but with Will, it just made sense. It fit her personality, and I loved that she started kind of a mini-movement.

There were two parts of this book that stood out the most to me: The overwhelming charm, and the relationships. I don’t mean the romantic ones (though they do stand out!) but all of them: Willow’s tumultuous relationship with her mom, her evolving friendships, and most importantly, the relationship she has with herself

Will basically never realized that she even did feel insecure in her own skin. She didn’t give it much thought at all, until Bo showed reciprocal interest. And of course, as one does, he wants to touch her. She feels repulsed by the mere thought of someone feeling her heft, and in that moment, she becomes so, so human. So relatable. I wanted to hug her and then cry with her, because it’s such an awful, yet such a real feeling.

The gist of the book is Will navigating life. Not just “life as a fat girl”, but life in general. She struggles with things that are specific to her, and things that pretty much everyone goes through. Will’s personality is larger than her body, and she just shines. She makes mistakes, she gets back up, and she learns to live her life.

Bottom Line: This is such a lovely coming of age book that I dare say everyone can relate to. Thin, heavy, or anywhere in between, Will has to go through the same ups and downs we all face, and learns so much about herself and everyone around her along the way.


Future Perfect by Jen Larsen
Published by HarperTeen on October 6th 2015
Pages: 320

Every year on her birthday, Ashley Perkins gets a card from her grandmother—a card that always contains a promise: lose enough weight, and I will buy your happiness.

Ashley doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the way she looks, but no amount of arguing can persuade her grandmother that “fat” isn’t a dirty word—that Ashley is happy with her life, and her body, as it is.
But Ashley wasn’t counting on having her dreams served up on a silver platter at her latest birthday party. She falters when Grandmother offers the one thing she’s always wanted: tuition to attend Harvard University—in exchange for undergoing weight loss surgery.

As Ashley grapples with the choice that little white card has given her, she feels pressured by her friends, her family, even administrators at school. But what’s a girl to do when the reflection in her mirror seems to bother everyone but her?

Through her indecisions and doubts, Ashley’s story is a liberating one—a tale of one girl, who knows that weight is just a number, and that no one is completely perfect.

Le sigh. I wanted to love this one so much. The concept appealed to me on a ton of personal levels, and I was anxious to see what direction it took. I feel like some of the problems I had with the book are almost opposite of problems that others have had. For instance, I have seen a lot of reviewers completely shocked that a grandmother would bribe her granddaughter to lose weight. That didn’t shock me in the least. In fact, I know a few of you knew about my BEA dilemma- that I hadn’t lost enough weight for my mom to agree to pay for it- and how devastated I was, that even though I had worked to lose it, it wasn’t enough. So yeah. Ashley’s story is a real thing, and it does happen. If you are appalled by it, good. Thank you. I appreciate your outrage. You’re right!

I enjoyed the setup of the book, basically. The part where we learn Ashley’s history, the story behind her grandmother’s ridiculousness, Ashley’s perfectionism, her awesome friends, and her family dynamic, as well as the weight stuff.

But then… I don’t know, it really lost momentum along the way for me. The story took some kind of random, kind of ridiculous/unbelievable turns. I can’t really say what happens of course, but it didn’t feel like it had much to do with the original story at hand.

There was romance, but not a ton of it. There were two guys, but I assure you it was not a triangle, so that’s good news. I just wasn’t super invested in either one, but they were both pretty stand up, decent guys, so at least that part wasn’t terribly annoying.

My problem with this book was pretty much threefold:

  1. The aforementioned random plots. These really could have been left out and nothing would have been lost from the book. In fact, maybe had the random side plots been fewer, I would have had more of a connection to Ashley. Which I did not.
  2. I got kind of bored/didn’t care. It wasn’t that I wasn’t worried about the outcome it was just that it seemed to take a long time to get there. And I wasn’t feeling much emotion from Ashley, which made it even harder for me to care about her. Like, I was genuinely more concerned about her friend than I was about Ashley for a good portion of the story, and I doubt that was the point.
  3. (And this is kind of the biggest) I really don’t see a physician in good standing even consenting to perform a bariatric surgery on a teenager with no other health problems who isn’t even that overweight. Add to that that it’s abundantly clear that Ashley doesn’t want this surgery, and it would be even less likely. There’s usually a significant amount of counseling to ensure patient cooperation and motivation. Proof? Yeah, I have that. 

Bottom Line: Look, I like what the author is trying to do here, and I absolutely agree that families can play huge (and often quite negative) roles in our self confidence, how we feel about our appearance, etc. I love that Ashley was so successful, and that we were taken on her journey. I just can’t look past the meandering story and implausibilities. 2h

Let’s talk about body image. How big of a problem do you think it is? I personally think it is huge, and that’s unfortunate. Aren’t we more than the size and shape of our bodies?

Posted September 11, 2015 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in Dual, Review / 34 Comments


34 responses to “Dual Review: Body Image Books

  1. So glad to hear that you loved Dumplin Shannon! It was a really inspirational story and it sounds like you could relate to Will with her dilemmas. It sounds like the second book kind of faltered in a way, then made you not care about the character. A wonderful set of reviews as usual!

  2. I reeeally liked Dumplin and I hadn’t even heard of the second book so I’ll probably be skipping it. >_< It sounds a bit awful, with the realism aspect. But heck yes, families can do awful things about weight. IT IS SAD. HUMANS. GAH.

  3. So bloody happy that you loved Dumplin’ Shannon!!! <3 <3 And I'm so happy that you shared your story with us… I'm so mad at those who made you feel insecure and inferior, and made the adjective "fat" such a traumatizing word. You look gorgeous in that pic, and if I were a guy, I would be attracted to you in a jiffy – because you're beautiful and amazing on the outside and in the inside <3 _<

    • Aww thank you!! The picture was the skinny pic, of course hahahah. But yeah- it is really ridiculous, and I don’t understand why people are so awful sometimes. It’s really sad, but I am so glad that books like this are putting it all out there. Even if I didn’t love Future Perfect, I loved its attempt.

  4. Wow, what a big, emotional topic this can be. So many of us have body issues, regardless of our size. It sure isn’t limited to heavier girls/women. I’ve seen such high praise for Dumplin’ and Willowdean. It’s definitely on my TBR. The second book… yeah, maybe not so much, despite its good intentions. Overall, I really enjoy seeing female protagonists in realistic sizes (not everyone is a petite size 4!) and Dumplin’ sounds like a great example of this.

    • It is SO true. It isn’t just heavier people. I have a friend who had a VERY severe eating disorder, and she had been very fit and healthy and not even ALMOST fat. It’s so hard to see this happening to people. At my all time thinnest I wasn’t even a size 4! I was super healthy and in shape, but definitely no size 4! I bet my skeleton wouldn’t be a 4. Yet society insists we all should be.

      I know what you mean about realistic protagonists. They don’t all have to be heavy- just like, maybe not Twiggy either 😉

  5. I skimmed the reviews because I’m one of those weirdos who likes going into books blind, and I definitely want to read Dumplin’. But I did read your intro, and hell yeah. I don’t understand why the default character in books is not only white, able-bodied, and straight, but also gorgeous and thin. Who cares? Be definition, most of us are average, so why the insistence that you have to be slender and pretty to be story worthy? And the whole “She doesn’t even know how beautiful she is” thing (looking at you, Hunger Games!) is also dumb. If authors think characters have to look “perfect” in order to have a romance in their book, again I ask, what about those of us who are pretty darn lumpy and bumpy and yet have found happiness and love? Because people DO fall in love with people who don’t look like movie stars ALL THE TIME.

    Sigh. Have you read Gabi, A Girl in Pieces? It’s another good one for positive body image, and actively addresses the objectification and body shaming of women. Plus, Gabi is funny.

    • Not weird at all! I do the same thing- I don’t read reviews until after I have read the book, unless I am not likely to read it, or am VERY on the fence!

      I TOTALLY agree with you- why does everyone need to be some kind of beautiful specimen? Like, I get that “sex sells” in Hollywood and in the media, but not with readers! We, in general, love diversity!

      I haven’t read Gabi, but I am adding it to my TBR right now- it sounds REALLY good! Thanks for the recommendation! And I hope you love Dumplin’ 😀

  6. I’m so looking forward to reading Dumplin’. As an “overweight” person, I can totally relate to this topic, especially when it’s addressed so perfectly, as it appears it has been in Dumplin’. It’s next on my TBR – yay! 🙂

  7. At least one of these books was a hit! Dumpling sounds like a cute book. There need to be more books where the heroine has self confidence but doesn’t look like a beauty queen. (Or turn into one)

    I’m sorry to hear that your mom wouldn’t pay for your trip. Good job working hard! That’s what really counts. 🙂

  8. I haven’t read either of these – but I’m glad you liked Dumplin’, even if you couldn’t quite love Future Perfect. I think body image books and story lines are really important. I’ve always had issues with my weight and how I look. I’m a lot better NOW, but I’m nowhere close to being completely happy. It’s a life long battle for many people and it’s important to have books out there that recognize this and talk about in a way that makes teens feel understood and safe.

    • Thanks! You’re so right- it is so, so important. I am sorry you’ve had to deal with this too. It is so hard, and for some reason, weight-shaming is one of the few forms of discrimination that is still somewhat socially acceptable (not to me, of course, but in general). I am very glad to hear that you are doing better with your confidence, but I know what you mean about being nowhere close 🙁 It’s such a struggle. I wish you the best in trying to make peace with it all.

  9. I’m glad to see you loved Dumplin! I’m really excited to read it as well! A protagonist that’s confident about her figure should be a good thing, and I want to see for myself how I like it! Sorry you didn’t enjoy the other one as much, though. Gratefully, Dumplin made up for what the other was missing (I hope)!

  10. I’m still unpacking a lot with Dumplin’ which turned out to be a much harder book for me to read than I expected (and I’m still not even sure why exactly that was the case). I’m sad to hear that Future Perfect missed the mark although I also have to admit I expected as much when I read the synopsis.

    Have you read Skinny by Donna Cooner? I thought that one handled self-acceptance (and bariatric surgery) really well.

    • I haven’t read Skinny, but I definitely will check it out! It’s weird because I didn’t think the synopsis, or even the story line was bad in FP, but it could have just been done… differently, I guess. Is Dumplin’ hard for you like, emotionally? I can understand that. Or is it just slow? Either way, I hope it gets better for you 🙂

      • It just hit a lot closer to home than I expected and I was bringing a lot more baggage to it than I realized. I wouldn’t call it slow but I did kind of want more pageant stuff earlier in the story.

  11. Shannon I adore you, just remember that okay? * hugs *. I’m really happy you enjoyed Dumplin because it’s one of those books where I read the synopsis and KNEW I had to have it. I’m really excited to read a story where the character breaks the mold on what female characters in YA are, skinny, beautiful, thin, etc. I’ve been hearing really good things so far, so I will be picking this up soon! As for the other book, I hate, hate when authors get all crazy with the plot and things go from realistic to absolutely ridiculous. I think i’ll be passing on that!

  12. Dumplin’ sounds so empowering and awesome, I’ve heard so many people say they can relate to it and it’s so bloody wonderful when books can connect on a personal level like that. I really have to check it out as it’s the pick of this month for a twitter bookclub.

    Sorry to hear that Future Perfect didn’t work for you, though. Crazy plot lines tend to take me out of a reading experience in a hurry as well.

    • I agree with you! It is great that all the hype is deserved, especially because so, so many people have body image issues, even if the issue isn’t weight, people will be able to relate to this one!

      And I agree, a crazy plot basically turns me off too. Unless it is like, supposed to be that way. Which this was not. 😀

  13. Oh body image is such an issue with me. I had to throw away my scale because I became so obsessed with my weight. I am TRYING to love myself and man, it is not easy. Years ago, I got very close to an eating disorder. I was eating less than 1000 calories a day and exercising for about one to two hours seven days a week. Okay, that was very disordered. And even when I lost all this weight, I STILL thought of myself as fat. I am more overweight than I was back then, but I threw away the scale so I wouldn’t worry about the numbers. I am working out on a regular basis and eating well, but it is a struggle not to go overboard.

    Anyway . . . Dumplin sounds so super cute and I have plans to get that one for sure. As for Future Perfect, something about the synopsis just turned me off it when I saw it, so I didn’t bother requesting it. Now I am glad I didn’t. 🙂

    • Aw I am really sorry you’ve gone through/are going through this too. It really isn’t easy, at all. I agree with you about the scale- the numbers can drive you literally INSANE. You can’t stop thinking about it! And like, as women, our weight is all over the place no matter what, so it;s extra bad. I have had so many periods like that- I will be gung-ho about losing weight, until iit gets like, unhealthy, and then I end up stopping because I feel like I am going to pass out half the time, so then it call comes back on and then some.

      I really hope you enjoy Dumplin’! As for FP, I am so bummed because I DID relate so much to the synopsis, so it was kind of extra sad. Ah, well!

  14. So, I read your review of Dumplin’ and then I finally read Dumplin’ and um yeah, one of my favorite books of the year by far! I agree with everything you said and more. Will is possibly my favorite character ever now if only because she’s so real and I can relate to her so so much.

    I have Future Perfect but I’m a little apprehensive about it. I will read it, I just feel like it won’t live up to Dumplin’. I know I shouldn’t compare them but it’s gonna happen. Also, not looking forward to the improbable things that happen? I hate those kinds of things. I need it to be realistic, m’kay?

    And yes, body image, big big problem. Something everyone needs to get over already. Like, I’m sick of commercials that basically say overweight people can’t be happy. Um, I’m fairly overweight myself, my whole family is, and pretty freaking happy most the time.

    Amazing reviews, Shannon! =)

    • Aw YAYY! I am so glad you loved it so much! Will is so fabulous!

      Yeah, you can’t help BUT compare them. And I really don’t see any chance of FP living up to Dumplin’s standard. That’s the thing too- I needed it to be realistic, but it just was not 🙁

      SERIOUSLY! What is that nonsense about overweight people being unhappy, unhealthy? It’s hilarious (in a sad way) because even when I was at my MOST in shape, super athletic, swimming 3 hours a day AND having a personal trainer, my BMI still had me in the “very overweight” category! Like come on! I was not even almost overweight (though of course, I was convinced I was). The whole thing is ridiculous!

  15. I appreciate this recent influx of books that are more positive and more diverse towards body image. I mean we are not all perfect. As a doctor I tend to look at the health issues of being overweight (or more accurately, obese), and they are real – however, a lot of people are perfectly healthy and don’t necessarily fit the norm of thin and beautiful. And even people who are “thin” have to deal with body issues that have to do with the way society perceives an ideal body (like the size of your breasts, or if you arm has dangling fat when you wave). Society is always trying to dictate the way women should look and what makes them beautiful and it has nothing to do with what humans actually perceive as beautiful, but everything to do with what the people with “power” look like. For instance, now celebrities look thin and fit in magazines, so that’s the beautiful way to look, but back in the middle ages, all the nobles were fat, and that was what was beautiful because it meant you were rich and could eat a lot.
    Anyway, this is a very important topic to always be in discussion, I think. We need to work on making ourselves healthier, I think, but also be happy and accept our bodies.
    I really enjoyed your reviews and I am super excited to read Dumplin’!

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