Monday, April 29, 2019

Dumplin' - Julie Murphy

Summary:  Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) 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 twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart. (Summary and image from goodreads.com) 

My Review:  If you've been on Netflix in the last several months, you've likely seen a trailer for the Netflix Original movie Dumplin'.  It centers around a somewhat socially outcast, extra-curvy, small town girl named Willowdean Dickson, who decides to enter the local beauty pageant where her mother had previously reigned supreme.  She isn't the typical sort to enter and her boldness encourages a few other social pariahs to follow her lead.  When I found out the show was based on a book, well, I threw Dumplin' in my Thriftbooks cart and added the movie version to my Netflix list.  Obviously, I'll be reading the book first, because that's how I roll.  If I like it (and you'll soon find out if I did), I'll let you know how the movie compares.

Julie Murphy's Dumplin' is a heartfelt, coming-of-age-novel with a unique and lively heroine.  Willowdean Dixon is just trying to make it through the daily rigmarole, mourning her aunt, struggling to connect with her mother, and, yes, carrying around a little extra weight.  Thankfully, Willowdean is okay with her curves.  She's got 'em and they're not going anywhere, and there's no need to apologize for it.  In her words:
"There's something about swimsuits that make you think you've got to earn the right to wear them. And that's wrong.  Really, the criteria is simple.  Do you have a body?  Put a swimsuit on it."
I loved her acceptance of her shape and I wanted to soak up some of that confidence. 

However, not far into the book, Willowdean is drawn into in a romance with a ridiculously handsome boy that knocks her self-confidence off kilter.  How could someone so gorgeous ever like me? she thinks, and cringes every time his hands stray to her waist.  When she finds out the boy will be attending her school, Will can't imagine facing the mountain of incredulity and ridicule that she is certain will come raining down from her classmates.  And so, the romance ends.  Sort of.  Frankly, I wasn't sure I liked this book while Willowdean was getting her groove on.  The relationship seemed almost entirely physical and I was suspicious of the boy's motives, probably because I've been conditioned (like the main character) to believe that super hot boys are only attracted to 'twiggy' girls.  I wasn't aware that I was size-prejudice, but I did have a hard time wrapping my head around their relationship and it was uncomfortable to confront that part of myself.  

When Willowdean decides to enter the local beauty pageant, in memory of her aunt and in order to prove something to herself, her stunning, slender best friend decides to enter as well. For reasons she can't quite fathom or explain, Will is furious and the two have a big blow up that lasts for much of the book.  The utter lack of BFF allows Willowdean to ever-so-slowly branch out into a new circle of 'misfits': Millie, the fat girl at school that makes even Will feel thin; Amanda, with her diffferent-sized legs; and Hannah, whose long face is frequently compared to livestock of the equine variety.  I loved the camraderie that came with Willowdean's new crew.  It wasn't easy at first, but eventually they grew into something pretty special and learned to to appreciate each other and their own uniqueness (and to care a little less about what others might think).  Each girl, including Willowdean, experienced their fair share of bullying at school and I appreciate this book for the issues it raised and the lesson it teaches on how we should (and shouldn't) treat others and that we should also be a little less critical of ourselves.   Honestly, who doesn't need this lesson?  

Dumplin's southern setting was another aspect of the book that I really enjoyed.  I've never been to the Texas (unless you count a brief layover Houston back in 2000), but I'm fascinated by southern culture, drawl, food, and general atmosphere.  I have no way of knowing how true-to-life Dumplin landed, just that it felt real in my mind and I enjoyed the trip.

Now, on to the things I didn't like.  I'll be brief.  First, swearing.  It was sprinkled throughout, and not lightly.  If the premise or writing had been crappy, I probably would have quit.  But it wasn't, so I didn't.  Second, there was also a fair amount of making out and sexual discussion (more so at the beginning that at the end.  The making out didn't really seem to have any emotion behind it, other than raging teenage hormones, and I was actually disappointed in the character.  I hate that I'm at this point in my life, with a teenage daughter or two, where I start to slip in to MOM mode when reading, even if I'm just reading for myself.  It's goes a little something like: (Willowdean makes out behind dumpster) Well,I certainly wouldn't want my daughters doing that! ...and so I am somehow critical of a fictional character for fictionally making out with her fictional crush.  It's annoying.  But there you have it.  I didn't like all the 'hanky panky' (because clearly I am old and and must now use such words) and the sexual break-down of Ellen's love life.  I will keep trying to remind myself NOT to slip into MOM mode while reading and to stop getting all judgmental about the life-choices of fictional characters.  I'm a work in progress.    

I really did enjoy the premise and overall message of this book, as it brings up some interesting topics for discussion (bullying, healthy romantic relationships, accepting others for their differences, and not being size-prejudiced).  The end of the book really brings it all together in a great, uplifting, you-go-girls kind of way and while I'm not quite ready to hand it over to my daughter right this second...I am considering it.   I'm going to give the movie a watch and see which medium is better at conveying the overall message without getting too graphic or salty.  It's weird, but sometimes the movie is 'cleaner' than the book in these situations. Ultimately, as with a lot of books I've read lately, you'll likely enjoy this book more if you aren't a sensitive reader.  


UPDATE:  I watched Dumplin' on Netflix tonight, or should I say Dumplin' Lite.  The Netflix version of the book is light on everything.  Light on all the things I didn't like (swearing, sexual convos, etc), which I thoroughly appreciated, but also light on all the things I loved.  All in all, it wasn't a bad tale, but it had far less emotional depth, several missing characters, and really only had time to skim the surface of the book.  Oh, and for those sensitive (or not) to such things, there were still plenty of Dolly Parton drag queens.   

My Rating: 3.25 Stars 

For the sensitive reader:  Swearing, some making out, and sexual dialogue.  A secondary character 'comes out' towards the end of the book.  The girls also accidentally ended up attending a drag show, but I actually didn't mind that part as they came away with new confidence and an important lesson learned.   

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