Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy


“There’s a beauty queen in that cute, little fat girl.”

“No,” I say. “That cute little fat girl IS a beauty queen.”

I’ve really not been very good at finishing books lately. Considering it took me until 8th February to finish my first book of last year, I wonder whether it’s something to do with the time of year. It’s a bit of a despondent time, with Christmas and two friends’ birthdays behind us, and dark mornings that seem endless, though I’m finding that less painful since getting a Lumie alarm clock, which is just lovely (I also like to lie and stare into it when I feel sad or run-down and that is nice too).

I’d seen a bit about Dumplin’ – mostly people talking about it on twitter and instagram – so I was incredibly excited when I noticed it on the new stock shelf in the library office. I issued it to myself immediately, and read it all the way home. I sat on the turn of the stairs and read it while hiding from the window cleaner. I read it on the way back into London to see Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and all the way home. I read it on my way to work on Wednesday, and on a bench in the National Gallery and finished it over a luxury solo dinner in Randall & Aubin (steak & chips, a salad, and a lemon tart that I would probably commit murder for) – sometimes, you just have to take yourself out for a romantic dinner.

The summary I gave to my friend yesterday morning was “it’s about a fat girl who loves Dolly Parton and enters a beauty pageant”, and it was very successful, because she got me to lend it to her right away. It is beautifully fat positive, without ever revealing Willowdean’s size/weight (and here is why), so, refreshingly, does not end with “and she got thin and lived happily ever after”. Thank god! But it isn’t naive, either – Willowdean struggles with self-doubt, with her mother, with people at school, but what really got me was that she perpetuates some of these. We all have internalised prejudices, especially as teenagers, and they affect our relationships with ourselves and others – I struggled enormously with internalised sexism and biphobia in particular – and it is crucial to Willowdean’s story that she begins to learn to dismantle these. She is a relatable protagonist, and I’m excited to see that we can expect a sequel, though not for another couple of years.

I loved Dumplin’, and have barely stopped listening to Dolly Parton since. Go forth and love it, too!


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