Julie Murphy, the song Jolene by Dolly Parton played on a loop inside my head. That's not a bad thing! The song made me smile and this book made me smile! The characters in this book have a special kinship to Dolly Parton's music, which I had heard about before I read a single page. I wasn't sure how that would work, but it definitely does and that also made me smile!
Willowdean "Dumplin" Dickson is comfortable with her self-proclaimed fat body, even if others, including her beauty-pageant obsessed mother, are not. She's happy and mad about her body at the same time. She can accept being fat, but the moment someone else is OK with it then it's time to panic -- and question everything you ever thought was true. Handsome jock Bo has taken a liking to Willowdean, so much that he wants to be more than just a friend from work. It's a shock to Willowdean. She's used to boys like Bo ignoring her or making fun of her weight. In her mind, it's unthinkable that a boy wants to date her, wants to kiss her, and see's her body as beautiful. Boys tend to go for Willowdean's best friend, Ellen, who is skinny and beautiful. Willowdean wants to share in her joy about Bo with Ellen but is afraid to. If Willowdean is still struggling to understand what Bo sees in her how can she explain it to another person -- even her best friend.
At times like this, Willowdean would normally crank up some Dolly Parton music and tell her troubles to her Aunt Lucy. But Lucy recently passed away, leaving Willowdean without her sounding board. Lucy was closer to Willowdean than her own mother. Lucy could relate to Willowdean better than anyone, as she struggled with her weight until the day she died. Willowdean loves her mom, but always feels like her mom sees her as a project. Something that needs to be fixed. When her mom isn't dropping subtle hints about losing weight or self-improvement, she obsesses over the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet beauty pageant. The pageant is the biggest event of the year in their small town, and Willowdean's mom, also a former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet, is in charge of running the pageant. Willowdean normally avoids the pageant like the plague, but it just might end up being her salvation. She's doubting ever aspect of her life, including her friendship with Ellen. Entering the pageant could be her chance at regaining her confidence.
It's quirky. It's funny. It's complex. It's also heartwarming. It's the kind of book I wish was around when I was a teenager. Fat girls in books were few and far between when I was a teenager, and I wish they weren't. This girl can be more than comic relief or a sidekick. Like Willowdean, these girls can be the object of affection, funny, sad, sarcastic, and happy all rolled into one. Now, time to see if Netflix did the book justice! Off to watch the movie and sing Jolene in my head!
Note: I received a copy of the book from Wunderkind PR in exchange for an honest review.