Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

"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.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

“Being temporary doesn't make something matter any less, because the point isn't how long, the point is that it happened...”

Years after an effective vaccine was developed for tuberculosis, a new strain has evolved. This version is resistant to drugs and highly contagious. As the book begins, our main character, Lane, is being sent to Latham House, a sanatorium where teenagers with drug-resistant TB are quarantined so they can focus on getting well.

The first kids he meets are friendly and religious. They are obviously the goody goodies and must be shunned. Among the cooler residents of Latham is Sadie. Lane and Sadie attended the same camp when they were younger, though Sadie is angry at Lane for some old affront. Back then, she had been quiet and kept to herself. At Latham, she and her friends are the popular kids, the group that Lane wishes he could join.

At first, Lane spends all of his time keeping up with his AP work. He stays up late doing the extra work and thinks that he will still be able to recover in time for the SATs and early admission to college. The long hours of studying take their toll and he gets sicker and sicker. Eventually, his lung x-rays give him away. His books and studying materials are confiscated, and Lane is forced to focus on getting well.

After he saves them from punishment, Sadie and her friends take Lane under their wing. They do things like dress up for movies night in fancy dresses and tuxedos while everyone else is wearing pajamas. Sadie has a contact in the nearby town who brings contraband food, books, whatever the kids want. They are the ones who know how to sneak out of the dorms, and they sometimes leave to visit Starbucks in the nearby town. It's all about pretending that they are normal, pretending that they aren't all close to death.

One day, the whole of Latham House is gathered and receives some big news. A drug called protocillin was developed that will cure drug-resistant TB. It's great news for everyone except Sadie.

Latham was my Hogwarts, and protocillin was the cure for my magic. It would turn me into a Muggle again, one who had to worry about standardized testing and mean girls and tardy slips...

It seems unbelievable that she isn't super happy, but it does make sense when you think about it. She has been at Latham for years. The education isn't fantastic, and since the kids die a lot, there isn't much concern for the future. Sadie will have to repeat several grades and then figure out what to do with the rest of her life. Latham House is life on pause. Sadie and Lane and everyone else could break rules and make trouble and it didn't really count towards real life. Of course, real life eventually catches up.

Extraordinary Means had a lot of good points, but also some annoying parts. It's very selfish of people with a very contagious disease to leave quarantine and risk infecting others. Also, the ending is effective, but when I thought it over a little bit, I felt manipulated. Overall, I liked the book well enough. It's really well written. The premise is interesting, especially with so many diseases coming back from the dead recently, anti-vaxxers and all that awfulness. I just hope that the story stays fictional.

I received my copy of Extraordinary Means from Edelweiss, courtesy of Katherine Tegen Books. It's available for purchase now.