Yikes! This was a seriously tough match-up and I’m sure it’ll only get tougher as we get to Round 4. Don’t make me choose! How do I choose?! But I’m jumping ahead of myself — let’s talk about these two awesome books.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness has a really clever concept. We all know how the Chosen One story goes where an unassuming but effortlessly cool teenager is tasked to take on the zombies, ghosts, vampires, or [insert monster of the week here] that are threatening the town. As Rebekah said in Round 2, Ness must be a fan of Buffy because the Chosen Ones in this story sound a lot like her and the Scooby Gang. But while the Chosen Ones a.k.a. “indie kids” go off and take on these mysterious paranormal figures, the other teenagers in town are just trying to take on their lives while hoping to not become collateral damage. Sure they may encounter these paranormal figures from time to time, but they’re not the ones the blue-eyed Immortals are after.
As Mikey and his friends navigate their senior year, they are acutely aware of the mysterious happenings in their town and Ness provides a short summary of what’s going on with the indie kids at the beginning of each chapter. This format was a bit confusing at the beginning since, as Jessica said in Round 1, the bit about the indie kids has nothing to do with the main characters of this story or any of the chapters. But once you get in the groove of reading, you appreciate the angle in which Ness forces you to see the story. I also appreciated the diversity of this crew of Scooby Gang adjacent teenagers. Kids who are gay, straight, multiracial, high achievers, low achievers, anxious, and seemingly confident make their way front and center, and are all relatable and recognizable characters. I could especially relate a lot to Mikey who, in a story about the kids who are not the Chosen Ones, feels particularly unchoosable. He says to his best friend Jared that he often feels like he’s the “least wanted” of his friend group, and that is a fear that is totally relatable especially when you’re a teenager and sadly even when you’re an adult.
It was a quick story with great narration from Mikey, had kind of a weird developmental arc for the characters, but was very relatable even with all the kooky stuff that happens on the sidelines. As I said before, it has a clever concept…and I love a clever concept!
Now as I started reading Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, I knew I was going to like it. C’mon! It’s about a fat girl named Willowdean who loves Dolly Parton — that’s me, y’all. (Note: I am not from Texas like Willowdean or the south but I often say “y’all” for some reason.) Willowdean doesn’t mind that she’s fat at the beginning of the story, but it’s no secret that waist size is often equated to attractiveness and that can take a toll on your self-worth if you’re bigger. It also doesn’t help that there are real bullies out there who go after fat people and ironically make them feel small. Now Willowdean knows all this and, in a way, has made her peace with it. But then Bo, the cute boy she works with who attends the local private school, becomes a real part of her life and her deep-seated insecurities all start to surface from this relationship. It then becomes plain to her that she isn’t like her mom or her best friend Ellen — she’s not what people would consider a beauty queen.
But what’s endearing and realistic about Willowdean is how she reacts to the situations in which she finds herself. She decides that she’s going to enter the local beauty pageant (which may not be super realistic) but her rationale and her defiance against being pigeonholed into a stereotype of a fat girl are. And although she ruffles some feathers and feels insecure every step of the way, she acts against other people’s perceptions of her because damn it to hell she does what she wants okay and why does she have to apologize?! After all, she has the power of Dolly Parton on her side! There’s a realness to her way of thinking that I can relate to as a fat girl. But I bet that non-fat girls, boys, and people will also find themselves relating to Ms. Willowdean Dickson too. I mean, just check out the reviews from Round 1 and Round 2 for this novel — it’s obviously highly relatable, features some real nice romantic moments that made me sigh, and provides an inside look into the far out world of teen beauty pageants!
Although it is a tough choice because these are two fantastic books, I’m going to have to crown Dumplin’ for this round. When I read about Willowdean, it finally felt like I found a character that thought my thoughts. Because being fat does in a lot of ways dictate how you think about the world around you. Just like race, sexual orientation, and other crucial parts of your identity might. It was a deeply personal read for me, and I imagine it will be for others too. But in the end, you have to just channel your inner Dolly Parton and be unapologetic for who you are!
WINNER: DUMPLIN’ BY JULIE MURPHY
Reviewed by Alice Son, Arlington Heights Memorial Library