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?