Willowdean Dickson has always been comfortable in her own skin. Even when she knows small-minded people might make unfavorable comparisons between Will and her beautiful best friend, Ellen. But Will knows who she is and she is okay with it. At least, she thinks she is until she takes a summer job working at Harpy’s–a local burger joint–alongside Private School Bo.
Bo is a former jock and totally hot. Of course Will is attracted to him. What gives her pause is that Bo seems to be attracted to her too.
When this unexpected romance makes Will question everything she thought she knew about herself (and her self-esteem), she knows it’s time to take a step back and make a change.
Inspired by all of the things her aunt let herself miss out on because of her weight, Willowdean decides to enter the Miss Clover City beauty pageant to prove to herself and everyone else (and maybe even her mother) that she can.
Entering the pageant might be the worst idea Will has ever had but with help from her friends, inspiration from Dolly Parton, and a lot of humor along the way, Willowdean will take Clover City by storm in Dumplin’ (2015) by Julie Murphy.
Dumplin’ has a very strong sense of place as Willowdean’s first person narration brings her small Texas town to life complete with its quirks and charms. And a love of Dolly Parton, of course.
Will is a charming and authentic narrator. Like many people, she has moments of doubt and often gets in her own way when it comes to being happy. She is also refreshingly self-aware and can identify these behaviors even if she can’t always stop them. While it’s hard in parts Dumplin’ to watch Willowdean being her own worst enemy, it’s also incredibly empowering to see her get it right and go after what she really wants.
Murphy’s sophomore novel highlights a lot of diverse lifestyles in this story including single parent homes, poor families, and some others that I can’t mention because they’re small spoilers.
Dumplin’ is an effervescent novel with a lot of heart and as much charm is its one-of-a-kind heroine. Recommended for readers looking for a sweet romance, thoughtful characters and an empowering story. Bonus appeal for readers who enjoy stories that feature beauty pageants.
Possible Pairings: The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras, The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills by Joanna Pearson, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee
*An advance copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*