Willowdean Dickson (Dumplin’, to her mum) has always been at home in her own skin.
Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body?
Really, the criteria is simple.
Do you have a body?
Put a swimsuit on it.
But life as Willow knows it is about to change, and when this happens she suffers an unaccustomed, and unwelcome, attack of self-doubt. In an effort to take back her confidence, she enters into the local Miss Teen Blue Bonnet beauty pageant.
With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs and a wildly unforgettable heroine – Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart. And send you out to buy that bikini!
This is the September pick for #bookclubaus. There will be a live twitter chat some time at the end of the month.
Dumplin’ is a novel that has received a lot of hype, and I was a little bit underwhelmed by it. I thought it was still a fun and quick read, but I found it a bit lacking.
Let’s discuss the positives first. I really liked that the book was very body-positive. Willowdean is very comfortable in her body and she doesn’t really care about what others think of her, even when they’re calling her names. She embraces her body and doesn’t try to change it, which I really admired. This book does not promote the thin-ideal. It’s not a book about losing weight to please others or ourselves. There were a lot of great messages about body image and fat-shaming. I also really appreciated that the book didn’t make fun of the skinny girls either.
All my life I’ve had a body worth commenting on and if living in my skin has taught me anything it’s that if it’s not your body, it’s not yours to comment on. Fat. Skinny. Short. Tall. It doesn’t matter.
I found it very easy to relate to Willowdean because I too have things that I don’t like about the way I look (as I’m sure most people do). It was very refreshing to see her embrace her own body even when her own mother is embarrassed by how she looks and tries to change her.
I thought the writing in this book was very easy to read and I sped through this book in about two sittings. I thought the narrative style made it very comfortable to read and understand. There were a couple of instances where the plot jumped ahead in time without warning and I was caught a little bit off guard. But that was just a minor problem.
Dumplin’ is marketed as a book about a larger girl who enters a beauty pageant but I found the beauty pageant aspect of it to be very minor in the story. This book begins with Willowdean crushing on a boy named Bo, who works with her at a fast food restaurant. When he starts to express interest in her, she feels self-conscious and doesn’t understand why such an attractive guy could be interested in her. Somehow she ends up joining the beauty pageant.
It’s never really clear to me why she enters the beauty pageant. It says on the blurb of my book that she entered to win her confidence back and I can see that but it was never clear that that was the reason. What prompts Willowdean to enter the pageant is an old pageant application form she finds in her deceased aunt’s bedroom. Her aunt was over 500 pounds and died at a young age from a heart attack. Initially I thought Willowdean entered the pageant to show that even larger girls can enter a beauty pageant, and to fulfil a wish that her aunt never had the guts to fulfil herself. But a couple of chapters later, it seemed to me that Willowdean was entering the pageant to make fun of it. It just really bothered me that I didn’t know what her motivations were.
Also, the idea of entering the beauty pageant didn’t come up until about page 140. Considering that the book is supposed to be about her entering the pageant, I felt that it was introduced too late in the book. We don’t get to see much of the preparation for the pageant and the actual pageant itself only takes up about 20 pages of the book. It felt a little bit anticlimactic and fell short of my expectations. I expected a lot more pageant in this book and I wanted it to be more extravagant or thrilling. Instead, for most of this book, we only get to see Willowdean going to work and school, and I just wanted some more excitement. Because the pageant itself was such a small part of the book, I also wasn’t really sure what Willowdean managed to learn from the experience.
There was a strong focus on the romance, and while I did like Willowdean and Bo together, I wanted less of the romance and more of the pageant and character development in Willowdean. Although she did grow more confident throughout the pageantry process, I thought there was room for her to grow much more. She does learn to develop stronger friendships with those around her and I really enjoyed those friendship elements in the book. But at the same time, I wish that was a little bit more developed as well.
All in all, I feel like there were some very enjoyable aspects and some great messages about body image and bullying. For me, I think the book needed to be longer because there were a lot of things that I felt were unclear or underdeveloped. The pageant section of the book was very rushed and not what I expected going in to the book. However, I did still enjoy the reading experience and I would recommend this, especially if you love Dolly Parton because there is a Dolly reference almost on every page.