This review might contain mild spoilers even though I tried to keep it spoiler-free – I just had a lot to say.
Author: Julie Murphy
Page count: 371
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Blurb as on Goodreads:
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.
This book has been out for a while and is talked about a lot. So from what I’d heard, I expected this to be a story about a young, overweight girl entering a beauty pageant to hopefully show everyone that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes or something to that effect. Since this is also a contemporary YA romance, I was expecting some drama.
When the road splits and it’s me who should be heading right, I veer left and follow a strange boy down a dark road, the sky above us in a deep sleep.
But I really should have read the blurb before going into it because honestly, even though she did sign up for the pageant, that’s not what the story is about. There was so much going on that I was quite annoyed by the time we got to the pageant.
Switching it up a little because I just have to get it out, let’s talk about the main character first (instead of the plot). So we follow Willowdean Dickson or “Will” for short, or “Dumplin'” as her mother calls her (though she hates it). Initially, Will comes across as if she doesn’t care about her weight or her looks and she talks as if she’s making the best of the situation and if anyone doesn’t like it, well, she doesn’t care. She also seems nice and loyal, even protective and is dealing with the loss of her aunt who she was much closer to than her mother.
It’s selfish and it’s wrong, I know. But I’m not perfect and neither is she. When you love someone enough, you accept their flaws. You make sacrifices to keep them sane. I need her to keep me sane. I need her to sacrifice this for me.
But under this confident exterior is an insecure, grieving young girl who desperately misses her aunt, feels overshadowed by her mother (and so treats her mother like she’s the bad guy for caring about Will in her own way), gets jealous if her best friend hangs out with friends from work and pretty much overreacts for the weirdest of things (like her maybe-boyfriend not keeping her in the loop about something – she sulked and ignored then blew up at him but couldn’t sit down and have a proper conversation). I just really didn’t like how she handled things.
“Willowdean Opal Dickson, you are beautiful. F*** anyone who’s ever made you feel anything less.”
I could relate to her to a certain extent with the weight and body image issues, the inferiority complex, being constantly reminded of not being “regular-sized” etc. but the reasons for her choices and behavior for most of the story were beyond my understanding, not to mention the fact that she cheated – or at least played with – the hearts of two guys, both of whom seemed to like her very much though I don’t get why. I really didn’t like/get the weird love triangle subplot and things were way more complicated than they needed to be.
Simply put, here’s the plot:
Self-proclaimed “fat” girl has an overbearing mother who constantly “harangues” her about her weight and looks. Needless to say, they’re not close and they don’t get along.
Fat Girl has a best friend who seems to have it all – a loving boyfriend, perfect relationship, perfect body, a job at the mall – and basically seems more accomplished in every field.
Fat Girl has a crush on her strong and silent, hot and broody coworker who is a former jock and – surprise! – likes her back. They embark on a secret summer romance but don’t really talk about being boyfriend-girlfriend and then have a little misunderstanding about something and the whole thing blows up before school starts.
Weeks later, Fat Girl enters their town’s beauty pageant to prove something to her mother or get revenge for something – I can’t even remember now – and doesn’t make enough efforts to win because that’s not why she entered.
The story isn’t really about the pageant stuff, as I was hoping. In the process of proving a point to her mother and the society, she unintentionally and unwillingly starts a revolution and gives hope to other misfits/victims of bullying that they have a right to do what they want as much as any regular person, so that’s one good thing that came of it.
Sometimes figuring out who you are means understanding that we are a mosaic of experiences.
Even so, almost till the very end, there isn’t all that much growth or change in Will herself at all. All of that confidence and don’t-care-what-people-think attitude she showed from the beginning wasn’t all that real; she did care about how she looked, she believed she doesn’t deserve what she wants (the guy she likes) because she’s fat and what would people say – and she used these very reasons to string along two guys for way too long.
I was just so frustrated with the whole thing.
The writing was easy to read, but I still had an issue getting into it. I don’t know if it’s just me but I constantly found myself trying to read it in a Southern accent in my head, and rereading a line several times to get the accent just right. That slowed down my reading speed a lot.
The ending was also disappointing and I didn’t like the way things were resolved. The story skimmed over a lot of stuff that would have been a lot more fun to read even though the book was too long. I really wish there had been more pageant stuff, or at least more of a transformation or a real change in Will’s thinking, her relationship with her mother – I wanted more. The ending just didn’t cut it for me.
Oh, and the Dolly Parton obsession was fine (there were a ton of references to her music and style and what she stands for – and they all went over my head). I’ll have to do some research to actually get it as I am not very familiar with this iconic artist as of yet.
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
I did see the movie but the book was too fresh in my mind at the time, I might have to see it again in a few days and then see how I feel about it.
Have you read this book? Or seen the movie? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!