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?
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
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.
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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- (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.