Book Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy


Dumplin’ tells the story of Willowdean Dickson, a teenage girl who is fat and doesn’t shy away from that. Her size is part of her but she knows that it isn’t all she is and she owns that. She’s confident (most of the time) and completely owns her personality: she’s a true Southern girl, down to her love of Dolly Parton and sweet tea. Willow and her best friend Ellen have grown up together, brought together first through force and then bonded for life over their love of a Dolly song. Although opposites in many ways, their personalities click and they’ve been through a lot together. High school brings a lot of challenges, especially for girls like Willow who aren’t the “typical” teenage girl and that’s the story that Dumplin’ tells, from a summer job and a “could he really like me?” crush to a beauty pageant revolution.

Dumplin’  was one of my most anticipated books of 2015. The hype surrounding it has been huge – Disney has even optioned it for a movie. Now that I’ve read it, Dumplin’ is easily one of my favorites so far this year. It’s a book that I know I will be going back to again and again. I’m already looking forward to re-reading it and my fingers are crossed for that movie to work out.

One of the things that stood out most to me was how realistic Willowdean is. She’s the girl whose thoughts on having a bikini body are to put a bikini on your body, no matter what size you are. She stands up for herself and for other girls when they need it. But we also see that Willow isn’t confident 100% of the time. Actually, Willow has a lot of moments when she feels self-conscious. But what girl doesn’t at some point, no matter what size you are? I loved the way this was worked into the story.

One example: During a kiss, she can’t help but think about if he’s disgusted by her back fat.

It’s moments like these that make her so much more relatable than if she was just the “fat girl with confidence.” One of the most important pieces of the story is that Willow understands the pros and cons of her life (and body size) and what it could mean for the future and she faces them head on. She lost her Aunt Lucy recently to a heart attack and this is still a fresh wound for her but she’s not stopping it from letting it live her life. In some ways, it actually serves as a spur to action; Lucy reminds Willow she can’t be afraid to live while she’s here. The focus isn’t on Willowdean changing, but on her living and that is so important.

While it plays a huge role, there is more to Dumplin’ than Willowdean and her body image. The relationships are so well written in this book. I loved Willow’s friendship with Ellen and the fact that it’s not perfect. These are girls who have grown up together and who know practically everything about the other. There is discomfort and disagreement, at times so bad that Ellen’s boyfriend has to be the messenger between the two for weeks on end. There’s bound to be tension at some point in relationships like this and Julie Murphy has captured it so well. Willow’s friendships with the pageant girls are special too: they’re the outcasts, the girls we normally don’t get to know well in books. Millie, Amanda, and Hannah come together with Willowdean in a brave move to show that they have just as much of a right to be on that pageant stage as anyone else and it’s awesome. Each girl has her own distinct personality and none of them are stuck in a box by stereotypes, which I loved.

I haven’t even gotten to Willowdean’s relationship with Bo. I think what makes Bo so special is that he’s not perfect. Sure, he’s the hot guy who works with Willow, but he has his flaws too and we see them in full force. As he gets to know Willow, he’s honest with her about his past and also about the fact that he really likes her. As much as Willow really likes him back and is that confident girl most of the time, she’s uncomfortable with the reactions that she knows they’ll get and she stalls on making her decision about what to do. The way Julie Murphy leaves their relationship is perfect for them and will leave readers satisfied.

This is not just a book for “fat” girls, but for anyone who has ever felt uncomfortable in their own body. Julie Murphy tells a realistic and relatable story that doesn’t dumb anything down. Dumplin’ will make you laugh, smile, swoon, and cry. It is inspirational and enjoyable and thought-provoking. Dumplin’ is a book that I know I’ll come back to over and over. I highly recommend it for everyone, no matter your size or gender or age or anything else.

Rating: 10/10

Official Synopsis:

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.

Lauren is a 20-year-old student living in Northern Virginia. She loves to read YA books and watch movies. Lauren is passionate about many things, but reading has always been a huge part of her life. Ever since she first learned to read, her parents have always had to pry books out of her hands when it’s time for other commitments. Lauren loves everything from The Hunger Games and Divergent, to Percy Jackson, mysteries like State of the Onion, and other YA books, like The Fault in Our Stars, and is always eager to try a new book, author, or series. She also loves music, public health, Harry Potter, and the Washington Capitals. Follow her on Twitter: @LWengrovitz.