I was initially attracted to this book because it was about a girl, Willowdean Dickson, who’s overweight and as such has to put up with some not so nice judgments from people. I walk with a stick because of a neurological illness, so understand how it can be infuriating having to deal with this.
Willowdean is a teenager who lives with her mum who calls her by a pet name, Dumplin. As I saw it, it wasn’t so much a pet name as a put-down and it only served to rock Willowdean’s self-image.
Willowdean and her best-friend El were brought together through a mutual appreciation of Dolly Parton. I thought Dolly Parton was a thing of the past myself, but apparently not. When Willowdean meets a guy called Bo at her job and they start making-out, Willowdean grows in confidence and decides to enter the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet beauty pageant that operates in her town every year. Her mother is an integral figure in this pageant and is surprised to find out that her less than conventional daughter is entering the pageant.
I appreciated this book for its honesty. It didn’t try to pretend that Willowdean was something she wasn’t. She often judged others, but I saw this as a reaction rather than an inherent trait. She’d spent her life playing second best and this had caused her to be resentful some times. She often made mistakes, for example when her best-friend decided to enter the beauty pageant with her. This caused Willowdean to be angry because she felt her friend entering ruined what she was trying to do, which was change the face of the pageant to something for unconventional beauty. I didn’t think this was right of Willowdean because she didn’t have a monopoly over the pageant and didn’t have the right to tell anyone not to enter. But she was a girl who’d been repeatedly put-down and saw the pageant as a chance to rise above the shame that defined her and her friend entering took some of the shine off that.
Willowdean and El’s falling out is a theme throughout the rest of the book, as is a love-triangle between Will, Bo and a guy called Mitch and of course the pageant.
I never thought Willowdean was inherently bad, I thought that some negative experiences in her life had begun to define her. Her mother (who was clearly a co-dependant) was difficult for Willowdean to contend with and this frustration resulted in a strained relationship between the two which was very well demonstrated.
Very real and never sugar-coated this is a book to read if you want an authentic YA read