"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?"
Willowdean Dickson, Will to her friends, Dumplin' to her mother, has lived her entire life in the shadow of the Miss Clover City pageant. Her mother won when she was younger, and now she runs the show every year. The pageant takes over both of their lives as her mother works with contestants, prepares for the show, and diets to fit into her old pageant dress.
Will isn't like her mother at all. She's fat, but also accepting of herself and her body (At least in theory). Unfortunately, she can tell that other people aren't as accepting, especially her mother. They are already a bit tense after Aunt Lucy died last year. Lucy, her mother's sister, had lived with them. She had been morbidly obese and suffered a heart attack. Will loved her aunt as a second, sometimes only, mother. Will sees her mother's disapproval as a disapproval of Lucy and fear that Will will end up just like her.
At her fast food job, Will bonds with the good-looking Bo. She doesn't tell anyone, not even her best friend Ellen. She is surprised when he seems to like her back, and even more so when they kiss. When Bo ends up transferring to Will's high school, she breaks things off because she fears that other kids will laugh about the fat girl dating the hot basketball player.
Eventually, Will decides to join the pageant. Unwittingly, she inspires fellow misfits Millie (Also fat), Amanda (Has uneven legs), and Hannah (Has "horse teeth"), as well as her traditionally pretty best friend Ellen. Will sees the pageant as a way to get back at her mom through the thing she loves most, but her friends think she is bravely challenging beauty standards.
I liked the message behind Dumplin'. The representation of a fat female protagonist was nice. She didn't constantly eat everything in sight or transform like a butterfly by the end of the book. My biggest complaint is that there wasn't much pageant in the book. It wasn't a big part of the story, but was the main reason I was reading. I wanted to get more costumes and rehearsals, I wanted Will to actually care about it. We don't even get to find out who wins! I can't help feeling a bit disappointed.
I received my copy of Dumplin' from Edelweiss, courtesy of Balzer + Brey. It's available for purchase now.