Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Title: Dumplin’

Author: Julie Murphy

Publisher: Balzer + Bray [imprint of HarperCollins]

Date Published: September 15, 2015

Format: ARC– Received in exchange of a fair review

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I’m so glad to be back to this blog! It’s been way too long and I am looking forward to getting Curiously Bookish back in action. I’ve had a crazy year that involved getting married and finishing grad school, so I’ve been understandably busy! 😛 I’m in the middle of restructuring this blog and getting some more exciting plans underway (I’ll have some exciting news to share with you guys soon!), but for now we’ll start with a book review:

Willowdean is a self-proclaimed fat girl who lives in Texas and is obsessed with Dolly Parton. If you don’t like her, too bad. She’s happy with her high school life (as much as anyone could be). But the summer before Junior year, things start to change. Her best friend, Ellen, and her are growing apart. Ellen is the typical all-American beauty and is becoming friends with the popular girls in her class, who keep acting like Willowdean and Ellen’s friendship is more of a charity case than a legitimate relationship.  On top of this, Willowdean’s new job at the fast food place comes with a super cute coworker, Bo. To her surprise Bo likes her, and instead of feeling elated, the normally confident Willowdean feels insecure. She begins to doubt herself around him and think of her body in negative ways when she’s with him. She’s desperate to get her old confidence back and she does the last thing she thought she would ever do, enter the local beauty pageant. To make things tougher it happens to be run by her former-beauty-queen mother.

This was a very entertaining read! Willowdean is definitely not the typical YA protagonist. She is very opinionated, confident, and clever. The story deals with body image in many different ways and with all kinds of characters. It’s about not being perfect, or what you see as perfect, and finding out that everyone can be just as insecure as you are. Murphy did a good job of balancing the message of being happy with who you are, with also being able to admit your faults and doubts.

I really enjoyed the way friendship was handled in this book. Willowdean and Ellen were everything to each other when they were younger, but now that they’ve gotten older, it’s not working out well. Willowdean feels like Ellen is leaving her behind and she doesn’t even feel comfortable talking to her about her maybe relationship with Bo. They drift further and further apart as Ellen makes friends with the popular girls that don’t like Willowdean, and the feeling is mutual. This forces Willowdean to make friends with some of the other girls in her class, the other girls who don’t fit in. This group is a bunch of girls who get bullied and teased, but unlike Willowdean, they don’t have the confidence to stand up for themselves. At first, she treats them with disdain and frustration, especially when they all decide to join the pageant along with her. Eventually, she begins to like them and sees the value of having different kinds of friends. That was probably my favorite part of the novel; you don’t need to have just one friend who is everything to you. Especially as you get older, your best friend and you may grow up to have different interests and like different things. You may drift apart, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t still friends. You can make different friends and so can she, but you are still always there for each other.

Friendship is where Dumplin’ is at its strongest, but I wasn’t as big of a fan of the romance. I really just didn’t like Bo as a character. He was the brooding, mysterious boy and he really didn’t have much of a personality. He started the story as a transfer student who had some secrets, but it never progressed from there. He was also quite cruel to Willowdean in the early parts of the novel, he wants to keep their relationship a secret and only hangs out with her at work and by the dumpster or in his car afterwards. It just has so many red flags that even when he apologizes later, it still doesn’t sit right with me. There is another boy introduced later in the novel, Mitch, who I thought was a more interesting character. He really likes Willowdean and is very open about it, but she simply doesn’t like him like that. I guess that is very high school, though. Making the wrong decisions about boys is pretty realistic sometimes!

Cover Critique: I’m a big fan of the cover. It’s so graphic and simple. Willowdean in that pose in the red dress really does represent the novel well. Everything is clean and simple, which makes that red stand out even more. I also really like the crown at the top, it’s cute and combined with the image, really lets you know that this is a pageant book.

Quick Version: Dumplin’ is a charming, easy read. Willowdean is a girl you don’t see a lot in fiction, especially as the main character. Friendship and the issues that come with growing up and maintaining friendships are really a bright point in the novel. While I didn’t like Bo and the romance, the true heart of the novel lies with Willowdean and Ellen and learning how to be confident and love yourself, faults and all.

Score: 4/5 stars

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