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Saturday, September 19, 2015

'Dumplin'' by Julie Murphy

Received from the Publisher 

From the BLURB:

Willowdean Dickson (Dumplin', to her mum) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.

But life as Willlow knows it is about to change, and when this happens she suffers an unaccustomed, and unwelcome, attack of self-doubt. In an effort to take back her confidence, she enters into the local Miss Teen Blue Bonner beauty pageant.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs and a wildly unforgettable heroine – Dumplin' is guaranteed to steal your heart. And send you out to buy that bikini!

‘Dumplin'’ is the second stand-alone contemporary young adult novel from American rising star, Julie Murphy (whose 2014 debut was ‘Side Effects May Vary’)

“Eff Your Beauty Standards” was a hashtag coined by Tess Holliday back in 2013 – Tess being a body positive activist, feminist, all-round awesome lady, world's biggest plus-sized super model and this year she was on the cover of People magazine. Oh yeah, AND I’VE MET HER! But I mention her here because in reading ‘Dumplin'’ I was moved by this idea that Julie Murphy’s book is basically a YA-ode to “Eff Your Beauty Standards!” – and that’s goddamn awesome.

Because let me just say, that when we talk about ‘We Need Diverse Books’ probably one aspect of that grassroots movement that doesn’t get talked about more often is an acceptance of all different body types and physical diversity, and the promotion of positive body activism. I think Tess Holliday has been a great activist on this front, as has blogger Jes Baker (‘The Militant Baker’) and Australian author Robert Hoge who, if you haven’t yet - please watch his Australian Story and read his words on how important it is to embrace “ugly” in this beauty-obsessed world of ours (especially because the definitions of “beauty” are so narrow and restrictive).

There has really been a body/beauty positivity movement growing bigger and bigger, even in the last five or so years. And this year we have Julie Murphy’s ‘Dumplin'’, which is just the most beautiful young adult crystallization of this message – “Eff Your Beauty Standards!” love who you are. And, honestly, I couldn’t think of a better book or author to gift this message to teen readers.

The book is about 16-year-old Willowdean Dickson who, when we meet her, is a big girl already brimming with body confidence. She says completely rad things like;

I say the pants are to blame. I don’t like to think of my hips as a nuisance, but more of an asset. I mean, if this were, like, 1642, my wide birthing hips would be worth many cows or something.

And also …
 If living in my skin has taught me anything it's that if it's not your body, it's not yours to comment on. 
… not to mention …

It's not that I don't like new people. It's just that, in general, I do not like new people. 
Basically – she is an amazing individual and I don’t care that she’s fictional, because we are totally best friends.

And then Willowdean (‘Dumplin’ to her beauty pageant-obsessed mama) suddenly finds herself crushing hard on fellow Harpy’s Burgers & Dogs employee – and all-round dreamboat – Bo Larson … who starts to reciprocate the crush right back.

Suddenly Willowdean is thrust into a relationship with her dream guy, but far from being on cloud nine, she suddenly feels self-conscious. Her insecurity at being on Bo’s arm (and worrying that everybody is wondering what he sees in her), manifests in her sabotaging their relationship and her friendship with Ellen Dryver – her best friend in the whole world and the only person as obsessed with Dolly Parton as Willowdean is.

Running beneath Willowdean’s burgeoning insecurities is the memory of her aunt and surrogate parent, Lucy – who was obese and has died recently. While Willowdean is still mourning the loss and coming to terms with the emptiness in their home and her life, Willowdean’s mama throws herself into the Clover City Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant … which gives Willowdean a brave idea to win back her confidence, and maybe win back the guy and her bestie too?

I loved this book. It’s smart and sassy, and Julie Murphy’s underlying message of loving yourself and embracing your own beauty standards is a great one, brilliantly communicated through the whip-quick character of Willowdean.

What I haven’t loved so much has been some of the mainstream reviews of the book, which are reductive and infuriating. Kirkus for example, summarised it thus; ‘a confident fat girl confronts new challenges to her self-esteem.’ And ended with; ‘In the end, it’s more liberating than oppressive, with bits of humor and a jubilant pageant takeover by beauty rebels to crown this unusual book about a fat character.’ Wow, Kirkus – way to miss the point and play into the fat-shaming by reducing an awesome, multi-layered teen like Willowdean to ‘a fat character’ … because, FYI – she’s more than her weight.

Thankfully though, those reviews that have missed the point are in the minority – and especially amongst teen readers, ‘Dumplin’’ is hitting a high-note – the word-of-mouth is insane, and overwhelmingly positive. Which just goes to show that the YA readership has been waiting a long time for someone as amazing as Willowdean, and an author as clever as Julie Murphy to introduce her to us.

This is a favourite of 2015 for me.



  1. I have been seeing a lot of positive feedback for this book. It's on my "gotta have" list :)

    1. It's fantastic - happy reading :) can't wait to read your thoughts!

  2. Looking forward to reading this book, heard so much about it - all good.


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