Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
Published by Balzer + Bray on September 15, 2015
Genres: young adult, contemporary fiction, contemporary romance
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Unfortunately, this dumpling was a little too bland for my taste.
From the moment I saw the cover for this book, I knew I wanted to read it. It’s so simple, but I think that’s what makes it so pretty.
If only its contents lived up to its beauty. Someone give the cover designer a prize.
Because I judge books mainly by their covers, I checked out the blurb for this book, and I was sold. A fat girl participating in a teenage beauty pageant? Sign me up. This was pitched as story about an humorous, sassy, overweight girl who enters a beauty pageant to prove she’s comfortable in her own skin. As someone who has struggled with my weight for many years, I was hoping I would be able to relate to Willowdean and her insecurities and self-consciousness about her size. I wanted to root for her, her relationship with Bo, and her friendship with Ellen. I wanted to see her step into her own.
However, this book fell short for me in quite a few areas, which made it a struggle to get through. I’ll go through the positives first, though, because there are still a few of those.
Things I liked
- Willowdean’s relationships with her aunt Lucy and her best friend, Ellen
- the cover
Things I didn’t like
- Character-wise, nothing was developed beyond the superficial aspects. Willowdean doesn’t really have a reason for liking Bo other than his good looks and there was no development in their relationship other than physical attraction. Every character in this book seemed more like caricatures, including our main character herself.
- I really wanted to like Willowdean, but I found her to be selfish and unsympathetic. Shortly after she enters the beauty pageant, several other “misfits” are inspired to do the same. Instead of supporting them, Willowdean discourages them from participating on the basis that they won’t have a chance of winning because they’re “too different.” I felt she should have been more supportive of these girls, especially because they were in the same boat she was, and also because they were very loyal to her. She gets there eventually, but, for me, it was too little, too late.
- SPOILER: Another thing about Willowdean that I didn’t appreciate is the way she treated Mitch. She led him on emotionally, even when she knew it was wrong. If she wasn’t entirely sure she didn’t want a romantic relationship with him, she should have stated that more explicitly. He was supportive, kind, and there to give advice when she needed it, but I felt Willowdean didn’t treat him very well. She used him, which reduced his role in the story to that of a tool instead of an actual character.
- There’s a clumsily-resolved love triangle in this book which I feel the story could have definitely done without.
- This novel could have been cut by at least 100 pages, and the overall plot wouldn’t have suffered for it.
- These characters have just become juniors in high school, which means they’re 16 or 17. These same characters are drinking beer and getting into serious (and sometimes physical) relationships like it’s normal. It’s not—at least, not in my experience. I hardly know any juniors who act the way the ones in this book did. Maybe I’m the odd one out here, but these characters didn’t read like their ages to me. I feel making them seniors would have made them a lot more believable as characters.
- The ending of the book is rather anti-climactic. Nothing felt very resolved to me; instead, the story just ends.
So, overall, this was a book with a promising premise, a nice cover, and some realistic relationship dynamics I enjoyed reading about, but it wasn’t nearly as developed as it could–or should–have been. Half a star each for Willowdean’s relationships with Lucy, Ellen, and Mitch; for the cover; and for the idea, which could have been much better executed if it would have taken some inspiration from Miss Congeniality. Probably won’t be picking up any more of Julie Murphy’s books in the future.