{Review} DUMPLIN' by Julie Murphy

O P E N I N G   H O O K:

  ALL THE BEST THINGS in my life have started with a Dolly Parton song. Including my friendship with Ellen Dryver.
  The song that sealed the deal was "Dumb Blonde" from her 1967 debut album, Hello, I'm Dolly. During the summer before first grade, my aunt Lucy bonded with Mrs. Dryver over their mutual devotion to Dolly. While they sipped sweet tea in the dining room, Ellen and I would sit on the couch watching cartoons, unsure of what to make of each other. But then one afternoon that song came on over Mrs. Dryver's stereo. Ellen tapped her foot as I hummed along, and before Dolly had even hit the chorus, we were spinning in circles and singing at the top of our lungs. Thankfully, our love for each other and Dolly ended up running deeper than one song.

(page 1, US ARC edition)

"When you're friends because of who you were and not who you are, it's hard not to find the common thread that stitches you together."

~Willowdean Dickson, DUMPLIN'

I'm not one for contemporary novels, as you all know. This past year at BEA, it was high on many people's wishlists, but not mine. It was available as a digital ARC and I'd downloaded it onto my nook. HarperCollins was dropping it pretty consistently at the Expo, too, and let's face it: I may not get to it. I was lucky enough to get out of a signing line when Julie Murphy had a short line for DUMPLIN', so I was able to get an early copy AND meet Julie, which was pretty awesome! I was SO GRATEFUL to have it later that night when I went to a panel at Books of Wonder. Rae Carson really sold the book that night when she talked about it so enthusiastically. 

It was in that moment that I went from "I want to read that" to "I really need to read this SOON."

Meeting Julie in May at BEA 2015!

 Today's review of DUMPLIN' by Julie Murphy has been a long time coming. I meant to review it on August 21st in celebration of main character Willowdean Dickson's birthday, buuuuut I had a blog tour stop scheduled for that day. September was also pretty packed for reviews and tour stops. So...sorry? This book is worth waiting for, though. It has so many positive messages, and will be that book that a teen finds when s/he needs it most in life.  

This book can change a teenager's life--and how many books can say that?

Dumplin' is what Willowdean Dickson's mom calls her. Her best friend Ellen Dryver calls her Will, as do most people. The cute boy at work that she has the biggest crush on, Bo Larson, calls her Willowdean. Each of them views her in a different way, creating unique relationships that form her identity. While the people who know her best know who she is, most of the world sees her in one way: Fat. They don't care to get to know her and tease her or tell her to lose weight. But Will likes the way she looks just fine, thankyouverymuch. She doesn't need to change. She's always been fine with her identity. But now, for the first time, she's uncertain. Why does having a crush on a boy and having him maybe--possibly?--like you back make everything so awkward? Your world completely changes and you no longer know up from down. Desperate to reclaim her confidence, Will sets out to do the one thing she said she never would and joins the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant. But entering will change more lives than her own, and Will is about to become a role model in a way she never would have dreamed of.

So many "fat girl" stories have the main character unhappy with her weight or trying desperately to change and become skinny. They send out the message that you can only be happy or popular or loved if you're thin. This message is further emphasized by the media through magazines, TV shows, etc, now more than ever with how instantly connected we all are. Is it any wonder that so many teen girls have eating disorders or look in a mirror only to see their flaws? DUMPLIN' is powerful because it ISN'T about changing yourself to achieve happiness. It's about embracing who you are and learning to find confidence in your own skin.

Will knows who she is, and she isn't trying to change that:

That night when I replayed our introductions over and over in my head, I realized that he didn't flinch when I called myself fat.

And I liked that.

The word fat makes people uncomfortable. But when you see me, the first thing you notice is my body. And my body is fat. It's like how I notice some girls have big boobs or shiny hair or knobby knees. Those things are okay to say. But the word fat, the one that best describes me, makes lips frown and cheeks lose their color.

But that's me. I'm fat. It's not a cuss word. It's not an insult. At least it's not when I say it. So I always figure why not get it out of the way?
(pg. 9, US ARC edition)

The message is powerful and will be sure to impact many teenagers. This is a book that needed to exist for teens many years ago, and will hopefully inspire more such girls in future novels--and in reality, too.
Another great message to take away from DUMPLIN' revolves around friendship. Friendships change and grow over the years. They evolve. Some people stay with us our entire lives, while others leave us. Some people you keep in touch with, but are no longer close to. We're all changing, all growing. Some of us take different directions and grow apart because we're no longer who we were. That's okay. It's normal. You can't stay who you are in high school. The things that bonded you growing up may not be enough to keep you together if you've both become someone else. Or if one of you stays exactly the same while the other moves on. There's a saying that "You can never go home again." If you've ever gone away to college or a life-changing summer at away-camp or something else that irrevocably changes you, you understand that. You go home and YOU'RE the one who is different. But that isn't a bad thing. Will and her best friend Ellen go through a lot of growing pains in DUMPLIN' and their relationship is handled realistically and gently. Readers will feel for what the girls are going through and emphasize with them. There's a lot of heart put into their relationship and it shows. This is a huge stand-out in the novel and another powerful message, for teens and adults alike. Don't be afraid to be you. Don't be afraid to change, to grow up. Don't be afraid to stay true to your roots. Just be YOU.
To close up today's review, I'm going to leave you all with an AWESOME piece of artwork that author Julie Murphy had commissioned in honor of our Dumplin' Willowdean Dickson:

Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG13 ( kissing; Will and Ellen often talk about virginity and the fact that Ellen is planning to lose her virginity to her boyfriend this summer  )
Language:  PG13+ ( Foul language interspersed, but not constant; at least three f-bombs,  )
Violence: --
Other: PG ( Learning to move on after a family member's death; a memory of underage drinking involving stolen wine coolers from parents; some school bullying )
C O V E R   D E S I G N: 

It's very mysterious! I like that there's no person on the cover. 

The  title is eye-catching, especially paired with a door and all that darkness. 

WHAT DID THEY SEE!? Any reader would pick this up to see what type of book it is!
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Julie Murphy
Release Date: September 15, 2015
Publisher: Balzer + Bray // HarperCollins
Received: For Review

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.