Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Balzer and Bray (28th Jan 2016)
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.
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You all know I have a habit of writing reviews on the fly, as soon as I’ve finished (sometimes even before turning the last page) because it’s the best way for me to encapsulate how I felt about the book. The first thing I remember thinking when I started the book was - “I hope this is good” and the last thing I thought of when I closed it was “wait, that’s it? THAT’S THE END?” and proceeded to chuck the book out the window and swear profanities. (Okay that last part may be a lie).
Backwards as this review is threatening to be, I felt like the ending was waaaaay too abrupt and there needed to be more work done to wrap this story up. I feel betrayed. But let’s rewind to the begging so I can do a proper review here.
I too, like the masses and throngs of people before me, was hugely excited by the prospect of this book. A self confessed large protagonist who promised to take us on a road of self love and self discovery. A story about love, loyalty, friendship, and what it means to be true to yourself. We only got snippets of that though, and even then it felt so jumbled to me. The main thing that attracted me to this premise, was for starters, the whole “self-proclaimed fat girl” which just instantly reminded me of Fat Amy from Pitch Perfect - someone who in theory makes fun of themselves before others can to take away from the humiliation.
I thought this character was going to be comfortable in her skin, accepting of who she is and those around her to some large extent. Instead, what I found in the main character was realism - yes she has moments where she feels totally fine about the way she looks, which is great, and even offers up questions such as why shouldn’t she get to wear a bikini and use the public pool in the heat, same as everyone else. Yet there were also moments of self-doubt, in which her confidence crumbles, and she becomes that self conscious girl she dreads - and I understand and admire the realism this encases in not just girls who are large, but also for those who are small - as body shaming works in more than just one way. Yes, the angst and indecisiveness Will felt, the constant arguments back and forth in her mind about her body image is realistic. Self image is a struggle, for some everyday, and not just a state of mind that is permanent once you found it. Some readers I’ve seen found it annoying how she bounced back and forth between how she felt about her body, but I appreciated the authenticity it lent to the character and story.
Yet what I couldn't get on board with, was the way in which Will has moments when she calls girls who are slimmer than her “twigs” and harbours negative thoughts towards them, without knowing them, simply based on their body alone. I take issue with this because if Will can be offended and hurt when others do that to her, she should know better than anyone else, than to do that to someone else, regardless of whether they’re larger than her or slimmer than her. I really disliked that about Will’s character and though I could get on board with her flows and ebbs in confidence, I didn’t appreciate the way she behaved with others based on the same thing she takes issues with. The instance with Millie too, (another large girl who wears eccentric clothes that make her stand out) and Will commented in the cafeteria scene how she doesn’t help herself with the way she dresses and attracts attentions - again something which Will should have understood, that if Millie was happy with the way she looked, the way she dressed, then that’s all that mattered.
In the end, I felt like Will redeemed herself somewhat when she realised that though the pageant didn’t mean what it should to her, to her friends is was definitely something more than just about size and body. That aside, in truth, how much depth was there really to Will’s character? She is confident from time to time, but outwardly even her best friend calls her selfish, what did she really bring to the table as a friend and as an individual person? I’m just not sure I really connected with Will as a character and it wasn’t due to body image connection or anything, but rather the kind of person she was portrayed to be. There’s realism, to some extent, but after that it’s just a case of a badly constructed character who was meant to be bringing forth a message about image and self love, which was instead lost amidst unnecessary drama.
When it came to the romance, she felt all over the place to me in terms of emotion. She led Mitch on, she liked both Bo and Mitch and at the same time disliked them. There wasn’t enough depth to either of the boys, especially Bo, and though the romance isn’t the central part of the story, it still needs credibility and needs to make sense at least if you’re going to add it to the story. The feelings between Mitch and her didn’t seem real not just from her end but from his too - sure he makes an effort with her, but only when she came and sat next to him because there was no other spaces available. And then they sit next to each other in class but aside from that - he never mentioned he liked her, made the move to ask her out until Bo was already in the scene - for me at least it felt like Mitch was thrown in purely for contending for Will’s feelings.
Sigh sigh sigh I feel like all the negatives have come out to play here - I wanted to love this book, really, I did because there was such great potential for this book to become a staple, an icon, that takes on an issue in YA that is rarely done - but there is also a need for when these issues are taken on, they are done right, contemplated and drawn out correctly in order to convey the intended message rather than get lost in the middle of drama for the sake of it. It hovers on the periphery of being funny, but trying to be serious and I feel like it should have just stuck to one or the other rather than muddled like this. Despite the flaws, I did enjoy parts of the book, the different array of characters, and all it was intended to be even if it didn’t hit the mark. I feel left out because so many people love this book and Will herself, but I just couldn’t get to grips with her character in the way I wanted to. Tis a shame, but an effort was made, even if it didn’t tick all the boxes for me. Lovely cover though, eh?