Dumplin' by Julie Murphy (2015), narrated by Eileen Stevens
This is not a "fat girl gets thin and lives happily after" book, nor is it a "fat girl learns to feel good about herself" book. Rather it is about a fat girl who already feels good about herself and does normal things that teenage girls do. But in doing so, she inspires other teenage girls who don't fit in to enter the pageant, which is revolutionary. And just because Willowdean thinks she's as entitled to enter the pageant as any other girl, doesn't mean that others share her view. Her mother, for instance, did not want Willowdean to enter because she would "embarrass herself." (Wow, mom, way to be supportive.) Willowdean thinks her mom is ashamed of her, just as she was ashamed of Lucy. But part of the reason why Willowdean wants to enter the pageant is because it's something that Lucy never would have done. Willowdean loved her a ton, but she really limited her own life in a lot of ways and Willowdean is determined not to hide herself away like she did.
I haven't even gotten to the romance part of the story yet. There is this really hot guy named Bo who Willowdean works with, and they start getting very close. Like, making out regularly. But it's a secret; as much as Willowdean feels confident about herself, she is sure that everyone would be shocked that guy like him would be with a girl like her and she doesn't want to tell anyone about their relationship. She doesn't even tell her best friend Ellen, who has been totally forthcoming about her own romance. Then when Ellen follows Willowdean's lead in entering the pageant, Willowdean gets super mad at her (because Ellen is totally pageant material) and their friendship really takes a hit.
There are all kinds of reasons why this is one of my favorite teen books of the year. I love that it takes place in the South, with the accent (it was an audiobook) and the politeness ("Bless his heart") and the Ranch dressing and the sweet tea. I love the importance of Dolly Parton in Willowdean's life, and this book really made me want to listen to her music.
There were many funny moments, and one of my favorites is early in the book when Bo unexpectedly transfers to Willowdean's high school. Her new friend Amanda observes that he's the guy Willowdean works with and asks, "How do you get any work done? His butt looks like a peach." Thenceforth, Bo is referred to by Amanda as Peach Butt. God, I love teenagers.
Willowdean is also very self-aware. When first getting involved with Bo she considers the possibility that he might actually be a jerk. She says, "I just can't think that about Bo. But I guess this is how every girl in the history of the sexes has been played. Because the rules apply to every situation except your own." I loved how thoughtful and introspective she could be, and how self-assured and determined she was.
This is a great audio pick! As I mentioned, there are Southern accents (which I always find quite charming) but also, this narrator just got everything right. Her tone was perfect in capturing Willowdean, and she also did a great job with the other characters' voices; they were all distinguishable without sounding forced or overdone. It was so much fun to listen to!
In summary, this book was pretty much perfect. Read it. Then go listen to some Dolly Parton songs. Trust me, you'll want to.