'Dumplin' by Julie Murphy: EW Review
Julie Murphy, New York Times best-selling author of Side Effects May Vary, is back with another tale touching on a heavy subject — this time body acceptance rather than cancer. Texan teenager Willowdean may call herself “fat,” but she’s never been uncomfortable about her weight. If other people have a problem with it, then it’s just that— their problem. She’s just gotten a driver’s license and a new job at a fast food restaurant, and her former beauty queen mother is now organizing the yearly pageant, which means less parental supervision. But when Will starts to fall for the private school basketball star she works with, she finds herself confused and wishing that “sucking it in” were a little more effective.
Despite encroaching feelings of self-doubt, Will maintains her attitude that no body type should warrant the ridicule that she and other not-so-cookie-cutter girls at her school are subjected to, and she sets out to prove it.
It’s somewhat cliché that Will and a few other misfits band together to shock the town by taking on a beauty pageant, and it’s hard to resist an eye roll when they all become besties in the process. What is wholly original, though, is the way Murphy crafts a character who is struggling with her weight only in terms of accepting it. After an incident at the local pool, Will thinks, “I’m mad I felt uncomfortable to begin with, because why should I? Why should I feel bad about wanting to get into a pool or standing around in my swimsuit?” Never once does she attempt to lose so much as an ounce, despite daily reminders that she doesn’t fit the all-American beauty standard. Amidst the adoration of Bo the basketball star, the disgust of Patrick the bully, the disappointment of a beauty queen mother, and the judgmental gaze of an entire Texas town, Murphy’s heroine must learn that there’s only one opinion that really matters — her own.