In Dumplin' by Julie Murphy, Willowdean Dickson is happy. She has a best friend she loves and she is comfortable in her own skin, even if other people wouldn't be. She describes herself as "cashier, Dolly Parton enthusiast, and resident fat girl." She doesn't mind it and she doesn't worry if other people do. Well, most of the time. There are times we all feel insecure about ourselves and Will is no exception, but she tries not to let it get the best of her.
What about having huge, bumpy thighs means that I need to apologize?
In the small town where Will lives, the annual beauty pageant is the center of the universe for six months out of the year. And it's the near center of Will's universe as her mother is the one who runs it. Will has never considered entering until she comes across a years-old blank registration form that her beloved recently deceased aunt had hidden away in a drawer. It breaks Will's heart to think that her Aunt Lucy wanted to enter, but didn't, and somehow it gives Will the courage to try for it herself.
Julie Murphy is from Texas and oh, does it show in her writing. She gets all the little traditions and bits of the landscape that other writers miss: the sweet tea, the manners, the traditions. There were bits in this book that felt like direct quotes from people I know.
A southern lady always puts up a fight when anyone else volunteers to do the cleaning.
I love that Murphy is able to bring all this flavor to her book without it feeling like a parody. She just gets it and it's so refreshing to read that. This may be the best quote in that vein:
There is no higher achievement for a southern woman that the ability to eat barbecue and walk away stain free.
Perhaps someday I'll be able to claim that achievement.
In addition to all the fantastic Texasness in this book is the way it speaks up for any young woman who feel insecure about herself. And really, isn't that every young woman? And not-so-young woman? It's important that we find out who we are, that we admit and understand our mistakes and that we become someone we want to be.
I've spent and entire day being so myself. Not a daughter, or a niece, or a token fat girl. Just Willowdean....But I'm tired of other people making me feel this way. I'm ready to make myself feel this way.
And when it came time for the swimwear competition, just as we've all experienced at the pool or on the beach or in the ghastly lighting of a dressing room while swimsuit shopping, Will has to face who she is and find away to be happy about it.
I may be uncomfortable, but I refuse to be ashamed.
That, I think, is my favorite quote of the year. Really.
Finally, I'll leave you with the epigraph Murphy chose to start us on Will's journey. It is truly sage advice:
Find out who you are and do it on purpose.