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Review: Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
Notes: ARC received via Amazon Vine Program.
Young Adult, Contemporary, Social Issues
Ebook/Print/Audio (384 pages, BLAZER + BRAY)
Dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom, Willowdean 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 Teen Blue Bonnet 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.
Author Site: website

"But can't I be both at the same time?" (4 stars)

With all the early buzz about DUMPLIN' I couldn't help but feel compelled to give it a shot. I've always loved novels where someone who isn't the usual Mary Sue gets to take center stage but Murphy takes it just a step further and produces Willowdean Dickson, one of the most real characters I've had the pleasure of reading in a while. Rather than make the fat girl have a personality without flaws that makes her adventure a matter of size, Murphy created a girl so real and true to life it sometimes hurt.

While at times I felt like the story tried to be too many things and jumped all over from themes of romance and friendship and familiar pressure and more, it was still engrossing. Two things killed my ability to rate it just a little bit higher though. The first was that it ended in a way that wasn't satisfying. I know some will be just fine with it but the word abrupt seems fitting to describe it and if those kind of endings bug you as much as they do myself you might find yourself disappointed. The second was that because of the way it ended a lot of parts of the storyline felt unresolved, actually the more I ponder it the more I think there wasn't really any resolution to anything.

My grievances aside, there were so many wonderful characters and thoughts from Will within the book. Social issues of many flavors drop up and provoke thought and stimulate emotion. I personally felt grief for Will's aunt Lucy right alongside her. But other issues of class and status, culture and religion, sexuality and ability peppered DUMPLIN' with things I think are universally relatable.

If you're looking for an excellent read for a book club that is sure to incite great conversations I very much recommend DUMPLIN'. One of the themes that overall will resonate with most young adult readers and adults alike though, is that we're all many things and sometimes things that seem opposite can be a part of us at the same time. You can be fat and beautiful, bold and insecure, love someone and not be in love with them. Even if you don't wind up loving DUMPLIN', you're sure to come away feeling as if you've had a heartfelt glimpse inside a character who is flawed and perfect all at the same time.

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