I really enjoyed Julie Murphy’s YA novel Dumplin’, and was delighted to get the chance to take part in the blog tour. Read on for my review, and a Q&A with Julie Murphy.
Willowdean is a self-proclaimed fat girl, confident in her own skin. Dumplin’ is a nickname given to her by her mother, a former beauty queen who still runs the Clover City beauty pageant. Will’s relationship with her mother has always been rocky, her recently Aunt Lucy was the real nurturing figure in her life. She has a deep connection with her best friend Ellen founded on shared memories and Dolly Parton songs. Will is generally happy with her life and with herself, but when she discovers Bo, the guy at work she has a crush on, likes her back; things begin to change. Being with Bo doesn’t give her more self-assurance, it makes her self-confidence crumble. She is growing apart from Ellen, her relationship with her mother is getting more strained and she misses her Aunt Lucy terribly. To try and regain her confidence, Will decides to take drastic action. She will enter the Clover City beauty pageant, and shock the narrow minded people at school and in her town. But she’s not alone. Will unwittingly becomes the leader of a group of misfits who are determined to show Clover City that there is more than one version of beauty.
The reader goes on a real journey with Willowdean and her motley crew of unlikely pageant contestants in this book. There are many great quotes from the book about self-confidence, and it has been promoted for its body positive attitude. However, Murphy also shows us Will’s insecurities and anxieties. Her self doubt is so powerfully written that it can be quite painful to read, as is her longing for the comforting presence of her Aunt Lucy. I am not a fan of love triangles, so I wasn’t very interested in that aspect of the book, but I enjoyed the focus on friendship. There are some very touching scenes with Willowdean’s fellow beauty pageant contestants, and Murphy also examines how friendships must shift and change as we grow. Most of all, I enjoyed seeing Will’s journey of self discovery. She matures a lot throughout the book, seeing how she had judged other girls in school, making new friends, and finding her inner strength.
The main reason I wanted to review Dumplin’ was that I am a big fan of Dolly Parton, and has heard that her songs were an important part of the book. I loved the quotes from Dolly and the references to her songs. The Dolly Parson impersonator night was one of my favourite scenes in the book. Thus, I thought it would be fitting to end the review with a quote from the woman herself which I feel sums up the spirit of the book:
The magic is in you. There ain’t no crystal ball. – Dolly Parton
Q&A with Julie Murphy
1) What is your favourite Dolly Parton song?
I will always love Jolene, but I think Little Sparrow might be my all time favorite.
2) What would your pageant show talent be?
I grew up doing lots of local theater or ballet. Unfortunately my body isn’t nearly as graceful as it used to be, so I think I would go with a dramatic monologue. Or online shopping–is that a talent?
3) Willowdean is a beautiful name – where did it come from?
It’s actually a very traditional Southern name here in the US, but the first time I saw it was on the nametag of an older grocery store clerk. She was grouchy and rude, but her name was so cheerful and unique. Soon after Dumplin’ was published in the US, I learned that Dolly Parton has a sister named Willadeene. If that’s not fate, I don’t know what is!
4) Which scene in Dumplin’ is your favourite, and which was most difficult to write?
I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a mini roadtrip where the girls believe they’re headed to a Dolly Parton impersonator competition, and what that scene evolved into was definitely my favorite thing to write. I had the most trouble with Aunt Lucy scenes, because I definitely had a figure like Aunt Lucy in my life growing, so it was hard not to feel like I was constantly rehashing my own grief. Also, all the moments when Willowdean was really doubting herself.
5) There are so many great quotes from Dumplin’ about self confidence and following your dreams. What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
My favorite piece of advice has always been that no one is going to treat you like you’re worthy of anything until you start treating yourself that way. So no matter what it is–whether you want to fall in love or pursue the career of your dreams or just have people treat you better in general, you’ve got to make that first move and decide you are worthy and present yourself that way.
6) What YA books would you recommend to fans of Dumplin‘?
I think Beauty Queens by Libba Bray would be an excellent book to pick up after!
7) Can you tell us any more about the companion novel to Dumplin‘? Will you use multiple POVs? Which characters will you focus on?
I can’t say much, but it will be two points of view and readers should already be familiar with both characters. Unfortunately, I can’t divulge just who those two characters are at the moment.
8) What is your writing routine? Do you plan a lot before you write, do you use a notebook or a laptop etc.?
I’m a creature of the night, so all my best work happens long after everyone has gone to sleep. I most often write on my laptop, but if I’m feeling especially stuck I’ll turn to pen and paper. I rely heavily on music and my Pinterest boards, too.
Thank you so much to Julie Murphy for her excellent answers, and to HarperCollins 360 for arranging the blog tour. Check out the poster for details of the blog tour, there are plenty of great posts about Dumplin’!