I’ll admit, I decided to read this book after watching the recent Netflix adaptation (and thoroughly enjoying it). With how busy my life has gotten, I’m lucky to finish a book in a few days, however every now and again, a book comes around that I simply cannot put down. Dumplin‘ was that book for me – I read it all in one sitting. It’s an ode to teenage friendship, loving yourself for who you are, and embracing the amazing music of Dolly Parton.
Dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom, Willowdean 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 girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.
The pacing of this book is phenomenal – it’s not a thriller by any means, but there is very little fluff and the small intricacies of Clover City and Willowdean’s life suck you in. The small town drama and traditions are fascinating and believable – it’s like watching a good southern reality TV show. One of the best parts of this book for me was how realistic the high school setting was. There was no cruel over the top pranks or massive dramas – there were intricate social circles with well written interactions and realistic bullying and drama.
The last couple of books that I’ve read with overweight narrators have had a big focus on the narrative that the main character just wants to shed a bit of the weight to accept herself (and to fit society’s expectations). Willowdean flips that trope on it’s head – she knows who she is and is doing her best to embrace herself the way she is. Salty, and deeply self-aware, Willowdean was one of my favorite main characters in a while. She’s deeply aware of the fact that she doesn’t fit the mold her mother (or the beauty pageant she is obsessed with) considers beautiful – but she never tries to reshape who she is for the sake of others. That’s not to say she isn’t flawed – she constantly lets herself get in the way of her own happiness, often through her own self-righteousness. She grew a lot as a character and it was wonderful to get to see her make new friends and push her own personal boundaries. The rest of the cast was a diverse and interesting group of characters – each with their own subplots and well developed characterizations.
Was this book perfect? No. But it was endearing enough for me to sail past it’s flaws and thoroughly enjoy it. If you’re thinking of watching the Netflix adaptation, do yourself a favor and read the book first. It’s a great coming of age story with great diversity of characters and a strong female empowerment message. 4/5