This uplifting novel by Julie Murphy tells the story of self-proclaimed fat-girl Willowdean Dickson, “dumplin”, and the All-American hobby – beauty pageants. Willowdean knows she isn’t like the fresh-faced beauty queens that mean everything to her former beauty queen mom, but that doesn’t stop her from feeling comfortable in her own skin. With her best friend Ellen at her side and their shared love for Dolly Parton, everything in the world seems okay. That is until Willowdean gets a job at the local fast food joint and meets prep school boy Bo Larson, who Willowdean is surprised to find likes her back. To make a point to her mom, and to all the other girls like her, Willowdean decides to join the beauty pageant. This story is all about young romance, firsts, and body positivity in a world that is struggling to grasp the concept that a bikini body is just a body in a bikini.
Everything about this book exudes positivity and good vibes. First of all, the lead female protagonist is a plus-size girl which is not usually seen in young adult non-fiction books. Many books paint the ideal female lead character as being beautiful and thin as a way to relate to the girls that society sees as traditionally beautiful. This book gives diversity and gives many more girls a character that they can relate to. Another thing about Willowdean is that she is extremely strong-willed, determined, and passionate. She stands up to bullies, even if they aren’t bullying her, and she doesn’t let what people say get to her. She learned this from her Aunt, which gives Willowdean an emotional side as well.
Another reason this book is so great is that it challenges the notion that beauty pageants are only for those seen as traditionally beautiful. It gathers a group of characters that are seen as different and joins them together to create the ultimate “protest”, as they call it. They all enter the beauty pageant to prove that beauty is not selective; it is for everyone. They are challenging traditional norms and are not afraid to do it. Talk about girl power.
The other great thing about this novel is that Willowdean not only has a crush on a former prep school jock, but he also has a crush on her. This opens up so many dialogues about plus-sized people being deserving of love on so many levels. Throughout the novel Willowdean has thoughts of insecurity about dating Bo because she believes he should be with someone who looks the opposite of her. She doesn’t think fat girls are his type. But he never once denies how beautiful he thinks she is, and this shows that just because you may be more thin or more pretty doesn’t mean you are more deserving. And Willowdean has this perspective through a greater portion of the book until she realizes that just because someone is a certain type, they are not better. Just because beauty pageants are societally meant for pretty, thin girls doesn’t mean someone of a different body shape can’t enter. It just means they haven’t because they feel they don’t have the option.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone that loves girl power and body positivity. It has so many good messages and was beautifully written by Julie Murphy. A Netflix Original movie based on the novel was released in December of 2018, and I would highly recommend that to.