Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

“Go big or go home.”
“If you got it, flaunt it.”

Willowdean Dickson is a self-proclaimed fat girl. She describes herself as not being so fat that she has to wear elastic waisted pants because they don’t make pants with buttons in her size, like Millie Michalchuk. Willowdean looks at Millie and always thinks that things could be worse in considering her size. Nevertheless, Willowdean is the complete opposite of her skinny, blond and tall best friend, Ellen Dryver. The two bonded over their love of Dolly Parton songs the summer before first grade. Ellen’s mother was friends with Willowdean’s Aunt Lucy before she died six months earlier. Weighing almost 500 pounds, Lucy rarely left the house. She died of a massive heart attack while watching tv by herself. She was only in her mid thirties. Willowdean’s hometown, Clover City, is home to the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant, the oldest pageant in Texas. The pageant is also her mother’s greatest accomplishment. She has nicknamed her daughter, Dumplin’. As head of the planning committee and hostess, each year she wears the dress that she wore the night she won the crown. Willowdean is self conscious about her body but for the most part, she is comfortable in her own skin.

Ellen isn’t happy that she and Will don’t work together. Ellen works at Sweet 16, a clothing store where Will is too large to wear the clothes that they sell. Instead, she works at Harpy’s Burgers & Dogs with Bo Larson. Bo attends a private Catholic school and Will has had a crush on him from the moment she laid eyes on him. Just as Will has finished her sophomore year of high school, Bo begins to pay attention to her. The two end up watching a meteor shower after work one night. Will begins to notice that Bo seems to be paying closer attention to her. The next night after a busy shift, Will & Bo carry out the trash. Bo throws the bags in the dumpster, turns around and kisses Will by surprise. Turns out it’s her first kiss and she responds but isn’t sure what to do. Bo doesn’t stop her when she goes back inside.

Dashing to her car when her shift ends, Willowdean thinks she is safe when a horn honks at the stop light. Seeing nothing behind her, she turns and sees Bo in his truck beside of her. She rolls down her window and Bo asks her to follow him. Knowing that it is a bad idea, Willowdean complies. They park at the condemned elementary school  that caught fire several years ago and get out. Bo tries to explain why he kissed her. He just couldn't stop himself. Furthermore, he remarks that Will kissed him back. Commenting that it was just an okay kiss, Will asks him why he did it. Before he can answer, it begins to rain and the two climb into Bo’s truck. Bo wants her opinion on how good his kiss was. Will says that maybe the second one would be better. Bo asks if she is sure but she beats him to the punch and instigates the kiss. Bo moves his hands to Willowdean’s waist and she suddenly becomes self conscious of her body. They break apart. Bo apologizes but Will doesn’t want to be that girl who worries over her body image. She is embarrassed but isn’t quite sure why. Her world is further rocked when Bo tells her that he has too much going on in his life at the moment and shouldn't be dating. She makes an excuse about it being late and runs through the rain to her car but not before Bo tells her that he’ll see her at work. Willowdean doesn’t share any of the details about Bo with anyone, including Ellen. Knowing that Ellen would believe her, Will isn't so sure herself what happen. She promises herself not to kiss Bo Larson again. She breaks that promise the next time they work together.

Two months later, Willowdean and Bo are still kissing. She is still embarrassed about Bo touching her body and she tries not to get into any situation where that will happen. Before school begins, Willowdean and Ellen go to the mall to pick up Ellen’s paycheck. While in the back trying on clothes, Willowdean overhears Ellen’s coworkers talk about her size and how nice it is that Ellen is her friend. Angry, Willowdean storms out of the store and sits on a bench. She is startled when Bo sits down with her. Soon, Ellen comes out and sees them together, but so does Bo’s stepmother and little brother. His stepmother comments on how pretty Ellen is and Bo tries to make her see what kind of person Willowdean is. The bottom comes out of her world when Bo’s stepmother comments that both of the boys will be attending Clover City High School in the fall. At Harpy’s, Willow does her best to ignore Bo. She is fortunate that she doesn’t see him very often during the school day. That reality is shattered when Bo is transferred to her fifth period class. Unable to deal with what she sees as his betrayal, embarrassment over her and the feelings of inadequacy over her body that he causes her, Willowdean takes a new job.

Soon, everything about Willowdean’s life is turned upside down. Her mother starts to clean out Lucy’s room so that she has more space for the ever consuming pageant and Willowdean isn’t happy. She lashes out that her mother is trying to forget her sister. She feels like Ellen is pulling away from her in favor of her coworkers. She also begins to doubt her body image and feels embarrassed by Bo and another boy’s attention to her.It isn’t long before Wilowdean does the one things she never thought she would do, she enters the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant as do Millie and two other larger girls.

What happens when Willowdean enters the pageant? Can she and her mother overcome their grief over Lucy’s death and attempt a relationship with one another? What does Willowdean discover about herself and her aunt Lucy as she goes through some of her stuff? Will Willowdean forgive what she sees as Bo’s betrayal and give him a second chance? Is Ellen pulling away from Willowdean or can the two repair their friendship? Dows Willowdean find it in herself to accept her body once again? How does she and her friends do in the pageant?

Visit Julie Murphy’s website.

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