Dumplin’ – Julie Murphy

Dumplin’ is otherwise known as Willowdean Dickson. She is a little larger than the average girl so her mum invented the nickname Dumplin’ and it has stuck. Her mum is also the main organiser of the town’s local Beauty Queen Pageant: The Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant, the oldest beauty pageant in Texas.

Willowdean lives in small town America and  the pageant is the biggest thing to happen in the town every year. If you are a previous winner, even if you’re old, you are celebrated as a town success story. Her mum wears the same dress to the ceremony every year and during the weeks running up to the pageant, their house is full of things associated with it. Dumplin’ lives with her mum and, until last year,  her aunt Lucy. Her father seems to be some guy passing through town. Lucy was also large and, at a young age, had a heart attack and died. She was also a massive Dolly Parton fan and took more interest in bringing up Dumplin’ then her mum. Dumplin’ misses Lucy – lots.

But, there is more to life for Willowdean and she has never even considered entering the pageant. She works at the local fast food place, Harpys and spends most of her time with her best friend Ellen and Ellen’s boyfriend Tim. At the beginning of the book all is well. Dumplin’ is working and hanging out with Ellen, who may be just about to sleep with Tim, life is going on as normal. Except that she works with the gorgeous, brooding Bo. A private school boy who is the restaurants chef. Bo starts making a move on Dumplin’ but, although she is confident about the way she looks, she’s not sure why anyone would like her. Bo makes a move but it’s all a secret and, in the end she decides that he is destroying her confidence by not being open about what he wants, and finishes it. She also finds out that he is starting at her school after the summer holidays. He didn’t tell her.

In the meantime, Ellen and Tim have done the deed but Ellen has a new friend at the skinny girls store that she works in, Callie, and Dumplin’ feels that they are growing apart. Callie is not a nice girl. To protest at the way that ‘not normal’ girls are never entered in the pageant, Dumplin decides to go for it, along with some other  friends who are not pageant material, and here’s were all the drama starts. Add in some Dolly Parton drag queens, some unrequited love and this is a great book! Millie, Emma and Amanda are also great characters that will have you rooting for them.

I liked her other book, Side Effects May Vary and this one is also good. A nice mix of fun, the underdog and sassy girls thrown in means that this is a quick and fun read that will have you rooting for fat girls everywhere ( know I used the f word but it’s used a lot in the book so…). I did feel a bit sorry for poor old Mitch though – but I loved the fact that even though Willowdean was not your average beauty queen, she still gets the guys and, hopefully, lives happily ever after.

An uplifting read that you will enjoy.

 

 

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My Brother Simple – Marie-Aude Murail

This book is written by a French author and is one of the most popular young adult books in France. It follows the story of Kleber and his brother, Simple. Kleber is 17 and his brother Barnaby/ Simple is 22. Simple has the mental age of a three year old and carries around a stuffed rabbit called Mr Babbit. Mr Babbit has his own voice in the book which can sometimes be confusing.

Simple has been living in an institution called Malicroix near where their father lives. Their mother is dead and their father has married a younger woman who is now pregnant. He is not very interested in his boys. Simple hates living in Malicroix and Kleber knows it, so he decides to take Simple out of the home and takes him to Paris to live with him. But first he needs to find somewhere to live. They start off by living with a great aunt but Kleber is desperate to live somewhere else and be more independent. After a few false starts he finds two rooms in a flat share with some university students. They are Aria and her boyfriend Emmanuel, who are medical students, Corentin, Aria’s brother and Enzo, Corentin’s best friend. Even though they are sceptical about taking on Simple, they eventually grow to love him. Enzo is also in love with Aria and, although she knows, she tries to ignore it.

Kleber meanwhile is having romance problems of his own. At college he meets a beautiful redhead called Beatrice and quickly falls in love. In the background is Zahra, another student on his course who he becomes friends with. Zahra falls in love with Kleber but he realises that he will have more luck with Beatrice and starts dating her. Simple goes around in his own little world and they all start to settle in to a routine. Simple is really good at messing up situations and making things awkward for Kleber but he perseveres. Eventually though, things come to a head and, after a series of misunderstandings, things start to go wrong. Kleber and the housemates need to rescue Simple after realising what a positive influence he is in each of their lives.

This book is lovely. Simple is such a great character and makes you feel more positive about life. Kleber is so young but loves his brother and wants to make his life better. Essentially it’s a story about the love that the brother’s have for each other and how one sacrifices his life so that he can look after the other. A really great book about love and redemption and France…

We Are All Made of Molecules – Susan Nielsen

we-are-all-made-of-molecules

We Are All Made of Molecules  was one of the books available as part of the Booktrust box of books, another great selection this year and I read it as part of my book club with year 8.

Stewart and his dad live together in their house which, until recently, also contained Stewart’s mum. A year before the book is set, she died. Stewart is a highly intelligent 13 year old and attends the Little Genius School for gifted children. He is very clever.

Ashley lives with her mum, her dad lives in a little house in the garden (apparently it’s called a laneway house) because he has  decided that he is gay. Ashley is not the brightest button in the box and is mortified by this. She is, as she describes it, at the top of the social ladder and is always worrying about her position on it. She is desperate to keep the fact that her dad is gay a secret.

Their worlds collide when Stewart’s dad starts dating Ashley’s mum and they decide  to move in together. Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mum and Ashley is super not happy about it. To make things worse (for her) Stewart decides to move from Little Gifted to the same high school as Ashley.

Stewart is not the most popular kid in school, but Ashley is the Queen Bee. She resents everything he says and does and doesn’t really want anyone to know that they know each other. Stewart starts to get bullied by the new boy, Jared, and Ashley fancies him. Stewart overhears a conversation about Ashley and decides to help get them together. This will also help with Jared trying to pull Stewart’s shorts down in PE (it must be a boy thing!). Jared is almost as unpleasant as Ashley so they deserve each other.

I loved the split narrative of this book. Stewart’s voice was warm and funny, Ashley was horrible and really made me dislike her. I could understand that they both had issues but I felt that Stewart was far more willing to compromise. Ashley was a bit of a spoilt brat. She does get her comeuppance in the end but it still left me thinking that she was horrible. Stewart is obviously on the Autistic spectrum and is very literal. But what a lovely boy he is, and the way he manages his life is really great.

This is a fun short read and it will help you appreciate the finer points of families coming together in these situations. It is also a good book club choice as there are a few things to discuss here. Most notably, Ashley and her relationship with her dad and Stewart and his obsession with molecules! You will like Stewart though, he’s one of the good guys.