Dumplin’

September 17, 2017
Dumplin' Book Cover Dumplin'
Dumplin, #1
Julie Murphy
Contemporary
Harper Collins
September 15th, 2015
Audionook
Library

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.

(via Goodreads)

 

I firmly believe that there are times in your life when you read a book and it is perfect. Why? Because this is the exact moment in which you needed that book.  I might have found Dumplin’ at that exact right moment in my life. Willowdean’s journey of self-acceptance speaks to everyone who has ever felt insecure and frustrated with themselves. And perhaps… This journey was one I needed to see from the outside for once.

All my life I’ve had a body worth commenting on and if living in my skin has taught me anything, it’s that if it’s not your body, it’s not yours to comment on.

Dumplin’, despite all you’ve heard about, isn’t just a “fat acceptance” story. This book is about self-acceptance. Not just body image, either! Willowdean struggles with how to balance work and school, friendships and romances, family expectations and mourning. She makes frequent mistakes and doesn’t always see them. And even when she does see them, she doesn’t always know how to correct what she’s done. Being inside Willowdean’s head is a joy– not only because it’s so easy to sympathize and relate to her, not only because she’s got a sassy Texas attitude, but also because she is fully realized.

The world Julie Murphy has built is filled with nuanced relationships. The complicated threads of Willowdean’s relationships are challenging to unknot.  Each interaction between characters builds and develops a domino effect on Willowdean’s life. She is coping with potentially drifting away from her BFF, the hot boy who likes her but isn’t respecting her needs, the outcast girls at school who want to make Willowdean their champion, the desires, and expectations of a former beauty queen mother, and the residue of her recently passed Aunt’s friendships coming into her life all at once. It’s complicated!

Good friendships are durable. They’re meant to survive the gaps and the growing pains. 

It’s not just the relationships Willowdean has with her friends and mother which are complex, but also the relationships the secondary characters have with each other and their families. Upon reflection, I realize that while not all Willowdean’s friends parents have speaking roles, they all play key roles into the experiences her friends are having. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized all parents are just trying their best to figure this out as they go. And it wasn’t until I read Dumplin’ that I realized how often children interpret their parents’ intentions for what they aren’t. I will be the first to admit that this book helped me better understand the relationship I have with my own mother.

I also want to throw out there that yes, there is a love triangle. The most realistic and organic love triangle I have ever read. It’s 100% what does actually happen in the real world. It’s awkward and natural and peculiar and shows up without warning. Respect it.

I think you gotta be who you want to be until you feel like you are whoever it is you’re trying to become. Sometimes half of doing something is pretending that you can.

One of the things I love most about Dumplin’ is that Willowdean is a self-proclaimed fat girl, but never ONCE in the story does Murphy give a value to that. While reading, I realized that the Willowdean I saw in my head probably didn’t look the same as other reader’s images of Willowdean Dickson. Instead, Murphy allowed the reader to define “fat” on their own. This is so important to readers in our current culture of fat-shaming. By leaving Willowdean’s size, weight, and other physical concerns a complete mystery to the reader, we are allowed to substitute in whatever we want. Heck, even whoever we want! Self-proclaimed fat girls and women all over the world can see themselves in Willowdean no matter what. It protects people who define themselves as fat, too. No reader has to read “Willowdean was a size 14 and she was fat” and then be shamed that their size 20 is worse by default. It’s so sad that we are in that place right now as a society, but it’s true. In fact— Murphy did that on purpose. A standing ovation for you, Mrs. Murphy. Thank you for that freedom.

Perfection is nothing more than a phantom shadow we’re all chasing.

A fiercely positive novel focusing on body image, identity, and self-love, I strongly recommend Dumplin’ to everyone who has ever doubted themselves for even one second. By the end of the book, I hope you realize that you are not made up of the labels society imposes upon you. As the Buddha says: “You are perfect just the way you are, but you could use some work.”


What do you think?

  • Have you read Dumplin’? What do you think of this book?
  • Have you ever felt like you read a book at just the right time? What book? How did it help you?
  • What was the last fiercely positive novel you read?
  • Have you read other books featuring beauty queens and pagenets you’d recommend? What are they and why would you recommend them?

31 Comments

  • Novels And Nonfiction September 19, 2017 at 9:29 am

    I’ve been wanting to read this and your review has inspired me to reserve the audiobook at the library. I have a couple questions – how did you feel about the quality of the writing? Was it literary fiction level? And do you think listening to it in audiobook helped you appreciate it more?

    • Jackie B September 21, 2017 at 8:36 pm

      I would say that it definitely reads like a YA genre fiction novel with literary leanings. It’s certainly character-centric and focused on introspection, but it doesn’t get too deep into issues other than what is affecting Willowdean. I feel like Murphy could have taken this further and explored a few other concepts, but as this is her debut novel, I’m not concerned with that. I feel the focus on Willowdean’s story was appropriate and realistic. Nothing earth shattering or overly complex to read. But totally worth hearing.

  • KrystiYAandWine September 19, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    Yay!!! I’m so glad you loved this one. We read it for book club a couple years ago, and I also LOVED it. It’s such a great story of self acceptance, like you said. I still haven’t read Julie Murphy’s latest book, but I REALLY want to! Wonderful review, Jackie! <3

    • Jackie B September 21, 2017 at 9:03 pm

      Thank you, Krysti! I haven’t read her latest book either– but it definitely intrigues me., Plus, after reading Dumplin’ I want to learn more about what Murphy can do!

      • KrystiYAandWine September 22, 2017 at 1:31 pm

        Same here! Let me know if you read it. It would be fun to try to do a buddy read in Nov or Dec if you have time. ☺️

        • Jackie B September 29, 2017 at 9:15 am

          I am PRO buddy read! November/December would work well for me. Just let me know– we can chat via email or Twitter. 😉

          • KrystiYAandWine September 30, 2017 at 10:32 am

            Yay! I’m so excited for this! November/December is perfect! Do you have a preference between the two?

            • Jackie B October 5, 2017 at 9:16 am

              Honestly? December. In November I am hosting the Thanksgiving Readathon with Ottavia @ Novels and Nonfiction, plus I have a ton of wedding-related stuff going on when I am home for Thanksgiving. But December is strangely free for me…

              • KrystiYAandWine October 5, 2017 at 10:45 pm

                December it is then! I’m really excited!

  • whatthelog September 20, 2017 at 2:34 am

    I 10000% agree with everything you’ve just said, Jackie! I also came to Dumplin’ just when I needed it – it has actually given me a really big boost in my self confidence, and inspired me to be more accepting of the label ‘fat’ to describe myself. I’m glad that it resonated with you too 🙂

    • Jackie B September 20, 2017 at 10:19 am

      Thank you!!! It’s makes so happy to know that I’m not alone on this. After also reading Americanah and listening to the protagonist talk about how she doesn’t understand why in American “fat” is considered a bad word I’ve thought a lot about what body image means. It’s so hard in a society where we are constantly fed expectations about what we should look like and how we should act to be ourselves. I hope that the next generation has an easier time with it… but until then, I think everyone should read Dumplin’.

      • whatthelog September 22, 2017 at 3:16 am

        Definitely – and I can’t wait for Puddin’ to come out as well!

        • Jackie B September 22, 2017 at 7:58 am

          !! I didn’t realize it had a title yet. Yessssss. That makes me even more excited for it!

  • Laila@BigReadingLife September 20, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    You’ve inspired me to put this on my TBR. Great review!

    • Jackie B September 20, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      Yay! Mission accomplished for me, then. 🙂

  • Dani @ Perspective of a Writer September 21, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    YAY, what a fabulous review Jackie… you make me want to read this book even more! I LOVE when relationships with people other than a love interest are explored! It’s important for readers to see that relationships change, grow, fade and adapt and we’ve got to understand that it’s natural. ♥️ I also liked your point that it’s important the author didn’t define what fat meant here so that the reader can fill that in. A size 10 of 12 girl can see herself as fat if they expect to be a 0 or 2 so really this book is for everyone!

  • Grab the Lapels September 23, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    This one is on my list fat reads in 2017. I feel like I’m getting distracted and not reading as many books with fat characters as I planned (or bought). Fun fact: my phone tries to edit the word fat for being not nice, like a swear word. Murphy wrote a book in this same universe that is now, or will soon be, out!

    • Jackie B September 26, 2017 at 7:54 pm

      Yes! I am super excited to read your eventual review of Dumplin. I imagine you’d have much more interesting and insightful things to say. 😉 I was just so excited with what I read that I feel like I missed a lot of depth. But that’s what re-reads are for, right?

      Puddin’ is on my TBR— The GR release date is listed as May 1st, 2018– but we all know that might change. I hope that it follows the same characters but doesn’t follow Willowdean. She could be a secondary character, though… those are my favorite kinds of sequels.

      I hope you get to read this book soon! I’m definitely curious to see what you think, Melanie.

      • Grab the Lapels September 27, 2017 at 6:01 am

        I think Julie Murphy said on Twitter that her new book exists in the same universe. Thank you for your kind words, Jackie!

  • Books, Vertigo and Tea September 24, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    Ok so I am going to say that I loved the aspirations of this one and the messages, but feel like I would have fared much better if I had not chosen audio. The narrator did not work for me 🙁 Which is odd because a lot of listeners and readers enjoyed the narration.

    • Jackie B September 26, 2017 at 7:34 pm

      I can completely understand how you might not like Eileen Steven’s interpretation. I will admit, it took me a few tracks to get used to her style– but I eventually felt in love with it. I honestly think her unique sense of narration helped me appreciate it more. I don’t know many people who speak with Southern accidents, so this was a bit of a… novelty? That feels like the wrong word, but I can’t come up with a better word, sadly.

      I’m sorry you didn’t connect as well to this book. The narrator for any audiobook can certainly swing my opinion one direction or another.

      • Books, Vertigo and Tea October 2, 2017 at 4:26 pm

        Maybe it was the fact that I have a southern accent that put me off to the narration 😉 I still appreciated what the author was conveying and can see easily why so many adored this one.

        • Jackie B October 6, 2017 at 11:24 pm

          Wait– you have a southern accent?! That’s awesome. And probably helps you identify if the accent of others is fake or not. Hm. Do you think that it was? What else could have bothered you about it?

          Pft, I love that we don’t share the same opinions about most of the books we read. But we can appreciate the opinions of others! Keep stickin’ to your guns, Danielle. 🙂

          • Books, Vertigo and Tea October 8, 2017 at 12:56 pm

            Thanks Jackie 😉 I think her accent was a bit over the top for me, but maybe that is due to the area I grew up in?

            Always happy to trade opposing opinions with you <3

  • Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity September 24, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    I feel bad for still not having read this book yet, despite the overwhelming positive response that I have seen it receive.

    I had no idea that Willowdean’s size and weight etc. were not revealed during the course of the book. I think that is amazing, mainly for the reasons you said. Anyone can see themselves in Willowdean’s character, and it doesn’t perpetuate the standards that society puts forward in terms of weight and sizing of women.

    I’m so glad that you read this at the right time in your life, Jackie! It’s such a wonderful serendipity moment, and something I love so much about reading 🙂

    • Jackie B September 26, 2017 at 7:23 pm

      Pft, don’t worry about not having read it yet! Just keep it on your TBR and I’m sure you’ll get to it eventually. It’s definitely worth reading.

      Bingo. I feel like far too many “body positive” texts as of late have been specifying a size/shape which is ideal. I much prefer being able to see myself in Willowdean– I don’t classify myself as “fat”, even though BMI documentation calls me “obese”. I fit well in my clothing; I’m muscular. But, that said, I still struggle with self-esteem and body image. Not fitting a societal standard is a challenge for everyone! In this case, Willowdean’s journey is something everyone can relate to. It’s lovely. And empowering!

  • LizScanlon September 29, 2017 at 11:26 am

    You got me interested! I think I’ll have to fit this into my reading schedule at some point! Going by how much you took away from the novel, it really is one not to miss!

    • Jackie B September 29, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      It is really empowering, I think. Plus, it helps me put into words quite a few things I wouldn’t have been able to articulate otherwise about body image and how we should view ourselves. It feels like a fairly extreme departure from your typical fare, but I’d love to hear what you think about it.

  • theorangutanlibrarian October 7, 2017 at 6:55 pm

    I completely agree with you about finding the right book at the right time! Amazing review!! I’ve heard so many great things about this and really need to get on and read it at some point!

    • Jackie B October 9, 2017 at 5:20 pm

      Thank you so much! I’m glad I’m not alone with that feeling — it’s amazing, looking back at some of the books I really love… they aren’t amazing works of literature. I think most of that connection just comes from finding the right book at the right time.

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