Julie Murphy’s 2015 young adult (YA) novel, Dumplin’: Go Big or Go Home, stands out among YAﬁction starring fat protagonists for an important reason: never, ever, not even for a moment in the course of the novel does the self-proclaimed fat girl go on a diet. The point, in other words, of the book is not for Willowdean Dickson to lose weight, but to struggle through being a teenager. Even more importantly—and realistically—though she begins the book believing she’s “always been happy in this skin” (124), Will discovers that her body-positivity and conﬁdence aren’t as stable and solid as she originally thought. Willowdean spends the book trying to regain this conﬁdence, to get back to what she sees as her true, fat-positive self. And while this constant seesawing back and forth between body conﬁdence and shame might put oﬀ some readers who see Will as wishy-washy and unreliable, this tension is in fact the novel’s strength: a realistic portrayal (especially for a teenager) of the all-too-real struggle to stay fat-positive in a thin-centric world.
While I won’t spoil the pageant results for the future reader, I will say that the experience, the process of entering and going through the pageant, is successful in some way for each of the unlikely suspects. It becomes a road to something that they each needed to do or to discover about themselves. It is something to do now, not later when they become thin or able or any other form of different society might imply they need to become before deserving what “normal” people deserve by default. And because they chose to seize—in this case via participation in a pageant—what society might have implicated they shouldn’t or couldn’t seize, these unlikely suspects open their worlds and embrace the notion that either/or is an illusion. Willowdean states it best: “Sometimes ﬁguring out who you are means understanding that we are a mosaic of experiences. I’m Dumplin’. And Will and Willowdean. I’m fat. I’m happy. I’m insecure. I’m bold” (366). Indeed, sometimes a story is positive because it dares to let the reader see, to experience, the negatives. Dumplin’ is that kind of story, making it a far more layered (and far more positive for it) YA tale than those that fat protagonists were allowed in literature, television, and ﬁlm even a decade ago.
© Taylor and Francis: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21604851.2017.1286881