“…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?”
Look – I wrote this whole thing – descriptions of each of these two books. Praise about each. A reasoned argument for why I was picking Dumplin’ over A Step Toward Falling. But here’s the truth – that quote up there ends the first chapter of Dumplin’, but I wish it was about me. Because I’m fat and I can only dream of having Willowdean’s self-confidence and bravery and I certainly didn’t in high school.
Not only am I fat, but my best friends are not. If you look at my bridesmaids, it’s actually possible that all three of them could have fit in my dress at the same time. Ok – I’m exaggerating – maybe only two of them. So reading about Willowdean and Ellen’s friendship and how complicated that is? Felt so true. Especially when it becomes clear that their friendship is so much stronger than their differences ever could be.
I finished this book and immediately wanted to post on every social media outlet I had – READ THIS BOOK. And then……I didn’t. Because I was too scared. Too scared of how people would react. Too scared of standing up and saying, like Willowdean does, I’m fat and this book will help you understand a little bit of how that feels to me. Because parts like this? They make me feel naked:
“It’s supposed to be easier to like yourself when someone else likes you. But that can’t be true. No matter how much I tell myself that the fat and the stretch marks don’t matter, they do. Even if Bo, for whatever reason doesn’t care, I do. Then there are days when I really give zero flying fucks, and I am totally satisfied with this body of mine. How can I be both of those people at once?”
But you really should read this book. Especially if you’ve never been fat. And especially if you are fat. And especially if you’re breathing. It will help you understand what it is like to be fat in a world that says over and over again that’s the worst thing you can be – not mean, not stupid, not bigoted – fat is the worst. Being fat makes you less than human, not worthy, means you’re never going to get the guy. But through Willowdean, Julie Murphy stands up and calls all of that nonsense out for being utter crap and I adore her and Willowdean for it. Because you know what being fat means? It means you’re fat. Nothing else. I want high school kids to read this and internalize and know it to be true. You are worthy of a crown. You are worthy of your dreams. You are worthy of love.
There’s a lot more to say about Dumplin’. It’s got so many great themes- acceptance of all sorts, mother/daughter relationships, grief, socioeconomic issues, bullying. What’s really amazing is that even with all of this going on? Dumplin’ is so much fun. It’s a feel-good kind of book that made me laugh even though it made me cry, too. I didn’t even mention Dolly Parton yet! I could go on and on, but just go read it. Seriously.
Cammie McGovern has written a really excellent book in A Step Toward Falling. It has important things to say about how we treat young people with disabilities and how our social systems often fail them once they have aged out of the schools. There’s a great message about how important it is to stand up and intervene when you see bad things happening – and how hard it is to do that when it comes down to the moment. McGovern does a particularly good job of drawing out the suspense of what exactly happened the evening Belinda was attacked. Belinda’s voice was my favorite part – seeing the world from her point of view was eye opening. The book as a whole though felt like a lesson. Emily and Lucas were there to be proxies for the reader – learning what McGovern wanted to teach; they just didn’t feel as real as Belinda did. I will recommend this to our library’s readers and I think it will be popular. I know I’m not doing it justice here; it was just misfortune that it came up against Dumplin’.
So here’s to Dumplin’ – for inspiring me to be braver, for its heart, for its humor, for all Willowdean’s friends and for Willowdean herself. Like Angela said last round, Willowdean might not have won the pageant crown, but I will be rooting for her to make it all the way here. Read this book – I hope you love it and Willowdean as much as I did.
WINNER: DUMPLIN’ BY JULIE MURPHY
Reviewed by Jennifer Jazwinski, Algonquin Area Public Library District