Young adult literature has been undergoing a massive positive change in the last few years. Where previously there was a heavy focus on sugary sweet high school romances with slim white girls at the core, after temporary hypes involving supernatural characters and dystopian worlds punctured through the unimaginative stories, the next wave in YA fiction seems to be all about character diversity. Dumplin' has a main protagonist that is a size (or two) up from the teenage average, but Will isn't the only thing 'big' within this novel, it's also packed with a big story and a very big heart.
Willowdean Dickson's mum is a former beauty queen in a small town in Texas where the annual Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant is a HUGE deal. The beauty contents takes over every nook and cranny of the town once a year and nearly all high school-aged girls do everything within their power to win the much-coveted title. Will, being the daughter of a former winner, sounds like the ideal candidate on paper. However, with a body several sizes larger than those of the girls competing, and a much more level-headed attitude towards the craziness that consumes Clover City once a year, entering has never even crossed Will's mind.
Until she realises that it's time for a change. A change for the town, the age-old stereotypes, and a change for herself and other misfits like her. The idea to enter may have been a spur of the moment decision at first, but what Will hadn't counted on was quite how many people would be impacted by her choice; from her mother and best friend, to her summer holiday work crush and a group of girls at school she has barely spoken to before. Will didn't set out to create quite such a stir in Clover City, but once she has entered there seems to be no way back and she has to embrace the unexpected challenges thrown her way – and she does so with a heavy dose of sass and flair.
At times it felt like I was reading Grease for the 21st century, but with the genders swapped around: boy and girl have summer romance, boy unexpectedly join girl's high school and girl takes part in something outside of her comfort zone to impress the boy. True, Will perhaps didn't initially sign up for the pageant to impress Bo, but the similarities between Sandy and Danny's storyline are eerily similar otherwise. And instead of Frankie Avalon providing inspirational songs in the background, it's Dolly Parton's catchy country tunes that run as motivational messages for Will throughout.
As I LOVE Grease (I'm sure I'm not the only one fangirling over the new Grease Live adaptation with Aaron Tveit) I hugely enjoyed spotting the similarities between this book and the classic musical, and author Julie Murphy did a great job of making it feel just as accessible and exciting in a modern-day Texas setting without the main characters breaking into song and dance every few pages (although there is a bit of that too, in a way).
And Grease aside, as this isn't actually a contemporary adaptation of the musical I just felt there were parallels between the two storylines, there is so much to enjoy within the pages of Dumplin'. From hilarious scenes that were a hoot to read and a loveable bunch of of characters, to a rather endearing love story and a kick-ass protagonist. As soon as I started reading this novel I fell in love with Will's mature self-awareness and can-do attitude. She is far from perfect, she is a teenager on a bumpy road to self-discovery after all and I feel she was definitely in the wrong in the way she treated her best friend Ellen, but her heart was in the right place and she made a huge difference in the lives of some of her schoolmates.
Filled with quirkiness, laugh-out-loud moments and a inspirational protagonist with a body-positive attitude to spark some confidence in today's teens, Dumplin' is a fantastic read for both young and old-er adults alike, to laugh along with, swoon along with, and head-over-heels fall in love with.
I also took part in the blog tour for this fabulous book! You can check out the guest post from author Julie Murphy on 5 things you might not yet know About Texas here.
Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
Dumplin' is published by HarperCollins and you can buy a copy from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.