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I am more than happy to confess that I knew I simply had to read this book based on the cover alone, never judge a book and all that – pah, when you pick up this beauty you’ll understand. Smooth, almost a velvet finish, black background with no fussy details, just one central image that demands attention. We see a woman in a fitted, floor length, siren red dress. Her arms are held aloft and her head is tilted back in jubilation, blond wavy hair cascading over her shoulders. But the thing that really grabs your attention…her love handles, an extra roll, a stomach that hasn’t been squeezed into some Spanx. Now reader, both you and I know that seeing a woman who isn’t classic sample size shouldn’t come as that much of a shock, let alone the fact that the woman could appear so confident in her appearance, but the sad fact is it still does surprise, we are just not used to diversity in body shapes appearing on the covers of, well, anything really. The back of the book shows the same woman in her swimming costume, not a thigh gap in sight, you already feel her challenging you to even think of judging her. Say hello to Willowdean, Will to her friends, Dumplin’ to her mother and ‘Dumplin’ to booksellers across the land as they add this novel by Julie Murphy to their shelves.
Will spends her days between high school and her job in a greasy fast food joint. The late hours, low pay and hideous uniform are all compensated for by the presence of Bo, her handsome, brooding co worker who has a certain part of his anatomy described as a ‘perfect peach’. Will has always been pretty confident about herself, she acknowledges she is not slim like other girls in school but she doesn’t have it as bad as some others who she watches get cruelly bullied, and anyway – her best friend El is always at her side to get her through anything.
Life is about to get a lot more complicated for our girl though. Still reeling from the loss of her beloved Aunt six months ago, tensions between Will and her mother are running high as the build up to the towns notorious beauty pageant gets under way. Will’s mum was one time Queen of the pageant and has been involved in the running every year since, always fighting to stay slim enough to fit back into that award winning dress. As Will feels more and more isolated at home she turns to her best friend El, only to find they seem to be growing apart in a way that can’t be fixed. The high point of her day is getting to see Bo at work and when their relationship begins to change too Will heads into a tailspin. Finally her relationship with her body begins to change as worries creep in that haven’t been there before. Our heroine doesn’t have too long facing these fears alone though as her and the so called *outsiders* of the school bond over an idea Will makes on a whim, quickly turning into something larger than she could ever have imagined.
I raced through this book as I was delighted to be in the company of these young women. I found Murphy had hit the tone just right, showing the confusion in trying to be who you are when it seems like the world is trying to tell you to be something else completely. Why isn’t ‘happy’ enough? I’ve seen some criticism of this book, that it is masquerading as being about body confidence when really it is still involved in body shaming of those who differ from Will. I strongly disagree with these criticisms, our protagonist is a teenage girl working through teenage feelings and emotions, as somebody who has some extra junk in my trunk *wiggles* I can more than confirm that these are thoughts that are very real to many out there. The important thing is what Will learns by the end of this story – with a bit of chutzpah, some great friends and some Dolly Parton turned up loud, we all deserve to be on that front cover.
Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy £12.99 (Harper Collins)