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.
I watched the film based on this book over a year ago now, and absolutely loved it. I’ve watched it quite a few times since then, it makes me cry – a lot – but in the best way possible, and I always feel good after watching it. So imagine my delight when I discover that this film I loved was based on a book. This is something I don’t usually do, I am strictly a book before film/TV show adaptation sort of a person, but in this case I just had to read it. I am so glad that I did.
Dumplin’ is the sort of book I feel I needed to read back in my early teens. I have never been comfortable in my own skin (something which I am gradually leaving behind, thank goodness) but a lot of the sentiments of this novel would have been good for me then. Don’t get me wrong though, this novel has done so much for me now as well. It’s amazing how some lines of a novel can just hit you in a certain spot, and in such a way that you feel that the novel was written specifically for you or even from your own thoughts. This happened with Dumplin’, time and time again.
“I think you gotta be who you want to be until you feel like you are whoever it is you’re trying to become. Sometimes half of doing something is pretending that you can.”Dumplin’, Julie Murphy
What I loved most about this novel was the characters. As the narrator, Willowdean’s voice echoed many of the sentiments and conversations I remember having with my own Mum at that age. Me, stubborn, and feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, and Mum, in some cases, unsure how to help, or not able to say the right thing (though unlike Willowdean and her mother, my mother and I are much closer, and have a much better relationship). It made reading this so easy, but also quite difficult at the same time.
Something else Murphy has done really well with her characters is that they are all flawed in some way, and in such a way that makes seem more human. The characters can be selfish, they speak without thinking, they are genuine, they are brave, they are strong, and some of them can be kind – but through all that they learn to be themselves, what ever that may be. I am so used to characters in young adult novels being almost frustratingly perfect, and who know who they are and what they want, its a comfort to read something like this. Especially when Willowdean comes to the conclusion that perfection isn’t something to aim for, but that accepting your own existence is, whatever that may be.
“Perfection is nothing more than a phantom shadow we’re all chasing.”Dumplin’, Julie Murphy
I love it when I find so much of myself in a novel, though these are the stories that I have more trouble finishing as I never want them to end. This was such a fun read, and I love that Willowdean has such an obsession with Dolly Parton and what she means to her. Seeing how that love for Dolly Parton brought her to her best friend Ellen, and how that love is something they share. This novel has friendship, humour, romance, heartbreak, and brought on far to many emotions for me to put into words. It made me smile, it made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me want to listen to Dolly Parton for the rest of the day!
“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”Dolly Parton