“Beauty Beyond Compare” Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

August 24, 2015 / 8 Comments / Review, Uncategorized

“Beauty Beyond Compare” Dumplin’ by Julie MurphyDumplin'

Author: Julie Murphy
Find the author: Website, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr
Also by this author: Ramona Blue, Meet Cute: Some People Are Destined to Meet.
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication date: September 15th 2015
Source: ARC from BEA15
My rating:
Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.com | The Book Depository | iBooks | Google Books | Audible

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked . . . until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.
Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.
With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine— Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Dumplin completely and utterly spoke to me. I cried two times reading it – that, right there, should tell you just how emotional and resonant a book it is. It’s not that it’s sad – it’s that it’s relateable, and the issues that Willowdean was facing were ones I faced as a teen, especially with her mother, her friends, and feeling good enough to be with a guy.

Let me explain: When I was eight, my mom showed me an article in the newspaper that showed Princess Diana and how she wore a lot of pink and purple, and told me that those were the colours I should wear if I wanted to be more feminine. When I was 12, she got permanent eyeliner and brow liner tattooed on, and suggested that I might want to do this sometime when I was an adult. When I was 13, she told me that it was important that I became a “life-long weight watcher.” And throughout my high school and college years, she would often comment on how, if I just made an effort, I could be prettier, more popular, and thinner (I was wearing the big, baggy t-shirts, comfy jeans, Doc Martens of the grunge era) – and that would make me happier.

Contrary to the synopsis, Dumplin isn’t just about a pageant or a boy – it’s about a girl who isn’t afraid to say she’s fat, who both judges herself while standing up for herself, and who is dealing with the death of her beloved aunt, who died of a heart attack and was on disability because of her extreme obesity. It’s about not having a ton of money, and needing to work to get out of your small town or get your car fixed, all while your entire town is obsessed with a beauty pageant.

All of these pieces make Willowdean question herself and her own choices. So when Willowdean gets the guy of her dreams, she just can’t let herself be okay with it because she’s not okay with herself. And to add insult to injury, she and her (very thin and beautiful) best friend are slowly growing apart because of love, jealousy, and hurt. In short, this is a book about everything you feel about growing up. And it’s funny, sarcastic, and swoony, too.

What Dumplin really gets right is theme: every moment of this book, whether it’s advancing the romantic plot or friendship plot, or just Willowdean’s own development – it’s all in line with the themes of loving yourself and how difficult and important that can be sometimes.

And yet, the plot does not dwell on those themes – this is not a book about how to deal with being fat or your body issues. It’s about a girl who is just…living her life. Murphy infuses Willowdean’s voice with so much honesty and rawness that I was left crying a multiple points because of how REAL it all felt to me. These were the thoughts I had in high school, especially about boys and friendship, and these were the moments I had with my mother over my own appearance.

While there are some beautiful gems of moments in this book where I swooned and sighed, Dumplin was so delicately and thoughtfully written that the whole thing felt like a moment. I dogeared dozens of pages and nodded to myself so many times. It’s a book I know I’ll read again to learn from and feel those magic moments of rightness.

Words to Live By:

“All my life I’ve had a body worth commenting on and if living in my skin has taught me anything, it’s that if it’s not your body, it’s not yours to comment on. Fat. Skinny. Short. Tall. It doesn’t matter.”

‘”I thought about it. I think every girl in this town does. But I wasn’t the same person I am today. I didn’t have it in me back then to pretend I felt good enough about myself to enter a beauty pageant.”
Her words sink in. I wonder if that’s why the pageant has bothered me more this year than in the past. The girls who enter have got to be proud enough of themselves to say they deserve to compete. That kind of unflinching confidence makes me uneasy in a way it never has before.”‘

‘”Wait. What’s my strength?” I ask.
She smiles. “Your confidence, of course.”
I zone out completely. How can she see something I can’t feel? And what’s the point in acting confident if I’m not? I never thought I cared about what I saw in the mirror. But Bo ruined that. It’s supposed to be easier to like yourself when someone else likes you.
But that can’t be true. No matter how much I tell myself that the fat and the stretch marks don’t matter, they do. Even if Bo, for whatever reason, doesn’t care, I do.
Then there are days when I really give zero flying fucks, and I am totally satisfied with this body of mine. How can I be both of those people at once?”

Book Theme Song:

Jolene by Dolly Parton

This is Willowdean’s favourite song, and it’s mentioned in the book more than once.Dolly Parton plays a really big and wonderful role in this book, so I HAD to choose it for the theme song.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m begging of you please don’t take my man
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him just because you can

Your beauty is beyond compare
With flaming locks of auburn hair
With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green

Your smile is like a breath of spring
Your voice is soft like summer rain
And I cannot compete with you, Jolene

The Final Word:

It took me years to deal with the self-esteem issues that I had from my teenage years (and I’m not blaming my mom for the whole thing – she may have said some things, but I let her words – and societal norms determine how I felt about myself, which is not right). This book is both an embodiment of those issues and a way to understand and deal with them – and aside from that, it’s also super emotional, sweet, funny, and swoony. I really believe this is a book that any teen who has ever thought a bad thought about their appearance will relate to, and it’s definitely one that I’d recommend for health classes and to be put on any bookshelf from 7th grade onward.

DUMPLIN’ comes out on September 15th. Have you read it? If not, will you be picking up a copy? Have you had issues with self-esteem? Do you watch or have you been in any pageants? What do you think of them? 

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8 responses to ““Beauty Beyond Compare” Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

  1. BerkeleyHapa

    What a thoughtful and descriptive review. Thank you! The tone of the book reminds me of Ann Aguirre’s Queen of Bright and Shining Things, which unexpectedly made me cry, so I know how that feels.

  2. I don’t know if we talked about it, but I loved this book, too, Tiff. Thanks for putting into words how I felt about it and for sharing yourself so honestly. 🙂

  3. I am almost finished with it now, and I wanted to recomment, now that I know what you were talking about. Willowdean is a phenomenal character, and this story is incredibly true-to-life and up-lifting. I love the ups and downs, and ins and outs. I love the true emotions that shine through. This book is just plain good. I think everyone, from 14 to 33 (like me), to 80, should read this book and get a good reminder that WE ARE GOOD ENOUGH!

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