February Love Story Spotlight: A review of “Dumplin’”

February 04, 2018

(Originally posted on my old book review blog, HilliterateBlog!)

Hi bookish friends! I've decided that with Valentines Day coming up and all this ~love~ in the air, I'm going to focus on reviewing love stories this month! Fortunately, I read a lot of love stories and have found some especially great ones recently. I'm starting with a YA novel that I really appreciate, not least because of its spotlight on my queen and hero, Dolly Parton. Dumplin' by Julie Murphy is a sweet, funny, and especially real story of loving another person, but even more about learning to love oneself. Dolly and self-love — does it get any better?

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Dumplin' tells the tale of Willowdean Dickson, a self-proclaimed fat girl. Willowdean lives in a small southern Texas town where the biggest things to happen are high school football games and and the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant. While her mom is a former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet who devotes a majority of her life to the pageant, Will could not care less for it and would rather spend her time with her best friend Ellen or working her fast food job at Harpy's with her handsome coworker, Bo. She has always felt comfortable with being fat, in spite of the rest of the world thinking she shouldn't be, and espouses body-positive beliefs about things like swimsuits ("There's something about swimsuits that makes people think you have to earn the right to wear them. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it!"). Everything changes for Will when she starts up a romance with her longtime crush and suddenly finds herself in a state of self-consciousness that she's never known before, dreading when he touches her and feeling gross in her own skin. In an effort to regain the confidence and sense of self that she once knew (and a little bit to prove to her critical mother, the creator of the nickname "Dumplin," that she can), Willowdean enters the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant. Some try to bring her down, others say she's brave and want to follow her lead in a sort of unlikely beauty queen revolution. But she doesn't want it to be shocking or courageous for a fat girl to think she's as worthy or beautiful as a skinny girl; she wants it to be normal.

I felt like this novel was very true to what it's like to be a teenage girl and having to learn how to love yourself for what you are when the world is telling you all of the things that you "should" be. Willowdean is not some flawless, body-positive superhero; she frequently bounces around from "I'm a badass," "I look amazing," to "I hate my thighs" and "I feel huge in my swimsuit." ...which reflects the feelings of most every girl I've ever known. Our insecurities can show up even when we're at our absolute best. But Willowdean also represents the power that girls and women have to push through all the forces telling us that we can't or shouldn't and showing the world that we can and should — even if our knees tremble and our voices shake while we do so.

Oh, and there's a cute but realistic romance along the way. :) Additionally, Dolly Parton has a huge presence from beginning to end and I just love that! Growing up, I was a frequent visitor to her theme park, Dollywood, and I love me some "Jolene." Willowdean encapsulates her love of Dolly so well — "It wasn't just the look of Dolly that drew us in. It was the attitude that came with knowing how ridiculous people thought she looked, but never changing a thing because she felt good about herself. To us, she is...invincible." <3

Last thing, there is a Dumplin' movie coming out this year and you should totally still read the book first, but I'm so excited to watch the big screen interpretation! The cast looks awesome, and Dolly herself has apparently written new music just for the movie. Julie Murphy is probably fangirling so hard and I don't blame her.

What are some of your favorite love stories? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on social media, linked on my homepage!

Happy February everyone! Until next time,

K. Hill