Book Review: “Dumplin'” by Julie Murphy
I’m a fat girl. As a fat girl, I enjoy reading books where the protagonist is also a fat girl, especially when they are portrayed as they should be – which is just like everyone else. Usually when the main character is fat, the book is all about how they are fat and what it’s like to be fat. I know what it’s like to be fat, so I don’t need to read books about it. I’d rather read a book about a girl who incites a revolution…who just happens to be fat. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy is…sort of that book, although the revolution that is started isn’t quite what you would expect.
I had really high hopes for Dumplin’. Main character Willowdean is a fat girl who makes no apologies for who she is…until she gets a boyfriend, Bo – and then it’s self-esteem issue central. Bo is conventionally attractive, and Will doesn’t understand why he would date someone who looks like her. Eventually both of their issues come to a head and the relationship ends, and Will starts dating someone who is more “appropriate” for her. But she still has feelings for Bo.
I suppose I can understand the doubts that would plague Will, but my main issue with Dumplin’ is that is very much a surface book. We learn tidbits about the characters but we never really get to know anyone but Willowdean, and I think that does the other characters a huge disservice because they seem like genuinely interesting people. It’s also hard to judge Willowdean for her romantic choices when we don’t really learn that much about either of her suitors. It’s clear that Will has issues – we’re in her head, and we understand what they are – but it’s implied that Bo has issues of his own, and the author never truly explores those. One of the reasons Will ended the relationship was because she felt he was ashamed of her, but the only real evidence of this is that when they run into each other in the mall, he introduces her as his friend instead of his girlfriend. However, she is also keeping the relationship a secret.
According to the Goodreads description, Will enters the annual Miss Clover City beauty pageant in order to gain back her confidence. However, that isn’t really true, because after entering, Will then promptly forgets all about the pageant. I think I would have enjoyed the book better if she had actively tried to win, instead of treating it like an afterthought. If it were so important for her to be in the pageant, to show everyone that fat girls have just as much worth as beauty pageant contestants, I feel like she would have put more effort into it.
Overall, Dumplin’ isn’t a bad book. The characters are interesting, and there are a lot of themes that I think are very universal. Other than the self-esteem issues, Will is also dealing with the death of her beloved aunt as well as tension in her relationships with her best friend and her mother. There is the overwhelming sense of just not being good enough, something I think a lot of people can relate to. So it isn’t that I didn’t like the book; I just had high expectations that weren’t really met.
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy is published by Balzer + Bray and is currently available wherever books are sold.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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