Pageants, Fast Food, and Conformity, Oh My!


by Julie Murphy
dumplin-c-1The circumstances of people’s lives are often peppered with ironies. Ironies so starling that they leave us scratching our heads in wonder. Hello Willowdean Dickson. Willowdean has what some might dub a “weight problem” but she is comfortable with her body (mostly).  Her mother is a former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet and current chair of the pageant. Commence head scratching.

Willowdean’s emotional touchstone has always been her Aunt Lucy whom she has recently lost due to complications of obesity.  The two were more mother and daughter than aunt and niece.  Willowdean’s grief is deep and intense and, unfortunately, she is unable to share it with her mother.  The two grieve in very different ways. Lucy’s death will either bring them closer or completely break an already fractured relationship.

Meanwhile, Willowdean’s lifelong best friend, Elle who is one of the prettiest girls in school, begins spending time with the would-be beauty queen set, the very girls that she and Willowdean have always privately mocked. Willowdean makes an effort with these girls, albeit not a very strong one, and is immediately met with mean-girl passive aggressive remarks and behaviors. She retreats from the group – – and her friend – -causing her to suffer another significant loss.

Romance proves as fraught with tension as her other relationships. At her less than glamorous fast-food job, Willowdean meets the very handsome Bo. The two are attracted to each other and before long, something of a romance develops. Despite Willowdean’s self-confidence and her ability to stand up to bullies, she keeps Bo a secret – – which nearly ends their relationship.  He is anxious to come out as a couple but she is reticent to do so. As she explains; “He wants to put this label on us and you know we won’t even make it one day at school without being ridiculed. He doesn’t get that.”

Julie Murphy masterfully resolves the conflicts in a refreshing way – one that doesn’t require Willowdean to lose weight!  Often characters’ problems are resolved when they conform to outside influences, but in this wonderful story Willowdean evolves and grows but doesn’t conform.

LisaBlogThis Youth book review was brought to you by Lisa Q. Harling. When not conducting Story Times or reading the best that kids’ authors have to offer, Lisa enjoys playing with her dogs and keeping up with her two adventurous sons. If you have suggestions for future book reviews, email her at


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