Puddin’ by Julie Murphy
From Goodreads: It is a companion novel to Dumplin’, which follows supporting characters from the first book in the months after Willowdean’s star turn in the Clover City pageant.
Millie Michalchuk has gone to fat camp every year since she was a girl. Not this year. This year she has new plans to chase her secret dream—and to kiss her crush. Callie Reyes is the pretty girl who is next in line for dance team captain and has the popular boyfriend. But when it comes to other girls, she’s more frenemy than friend. When circumstances bring the girls together over the course of a semester, they will surprise everyone (especially themselves) by realizing they might have more in common than they ever imagined.
First of all, thank you so much to Harper Collins 360 for sending me a proof of this book in exchange for a review. I re-read Dumplin’ recently in preparation for this review, and you can read my review of it here.
And secondly, let me say how delightful this book was to read. When YA is good, it makes me feel like I’m slipping into a comfy pair of PJ’s, or like calling up an old friend to talk. It’s incredibly comforting, and to me, the best kind of YA books are the ones which teach us something about ourselves in the process. And boy, this book delivered on that.
If you’re not familiar with Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ series, you’ve honestly been missing out. What have you been doing all this time? I liked Puddin’ though because it was more of a companion novel, meaning it was possible to read it and enjoy without picking up the first one. It follows one of the sorta main but sorta side characters, Millie, and a very much side character, Callie as they form an amazing friendship and overcome significant coming-of-age challenges. Usually I’m a bit uncertain about alternate chapter narration books, but this one worked well for me, probably because I cared about both Millie and Callie equally. And I think it also worked to give us both insights into their lives and opinions and perceptions of the world because they were so different from each other, and yet so similar in small ways. Callie is a Shamrock, one of the high-school dance team. She’s got what appears to be a perfect life– she’s got her teammates, she’s conventionally attractive and slim, she’s got a rich and popular boyfriend who spends lots of time making out with her, a job in a nice clothes store, and she’s pretty certain that she’s got a chance at scholarships based on her dancing. She’s essentially that YA cheerleader stereotype, except somewhere beneath the shallow surface, she’s actually smart and cares about things. Millie is the cheerful fat girl who has been to fat camp every summer. She’s funny and sweet, and not overly bothered about her weight, but she’s also got ambitions that she knows will be difficult because of how she looks. She’s the kind of girl people like Callie make fun of.
Of course, since this is a gorgeously fluffy YA novel, it’s pretty clear that the two of them are going to wind up being BFFs. And that does happen, somewhere along the way, but there’s also those brilliant discussions about bigger issues: body-confidence, fat-shaming, everyday sexism, race, and sexuality. I love how diverse the characters were in this novel, and I like that there were discussions about the things that made people diverse. There’s a brilliant moment when Amanda, Millie’s best friend, announces during a slumber-party game that she’s asexual. Millie, from a quite conservative background, is stunned, but she also makes an effort to explain to Amanda that it is not Amanda’s responsibility to educate her about it, and repeats that she’s always there to talk about anything with Amanda. It’s a really sweet moment, because it isn’t a perfect acceptance, but it is realistic.
Like I said, Puddin’ works because it offers both sides of the story. Millie is used to people commenting on her size, while Callie is used to being effortlessly popular. More so, if I could point to one thing that was an improvement on Dumplin’ it is how it uses these two conflicting characters to emphasise a bond of friendship. Although Callie does point out that as a Latinx girl in a very-white family [her parents divorced, and her white mother remarried and had a child with Callie’s step-dad, and Callie’s full sister is off at university] she does feel as though she doesn’t always fit in, there’s also a sense of the two things not being exactly the same. However, she also has to deal with loneliness and shallowness, and at the start of the novel she’s very aware of how many calories she’s eating even when she’s munching on comfort food, because she’s keen to keep her figure for dance. It isn’t entirely the same. As Millie says: “maybe girls like Callie don’t think about the expense of drawing more attention to themselves. It’s something I consider every day. It’s like a cost benefit analysis. Is this floral tunic too loud? Is me being happy wearing it worth the attention it will cost me? […] How much do I have to love it for that to be worth it?” It’s powerful stuff, and it really hits home for any girl who has ever felt self-conscious in her own skin. But Murphy’s point it clear: fat-shaming is wrong, but so is judging a slim, conventionally pretty person for how they look. Callie is initially something of a stereotype, but her character grows so much during the book, and it was possibly my favourite thing about it.
Millie’s family is a big obstacle for her to overcome. Her mother, who struggles with her own weight, is determined to send Millie to Daisy Ranch fat-camp again, while Millie is determined to go to journalism school. Millie’s mum is determined that, if Millie just tries hard enough, there really is a slim girl inside her just waiting to be set free. It’s pretty heartbreaking, actually, to see Millie accept her own body even while her mother doesn’t. Like Willowdean’s mother, it comes from a kindhearted place, but there is such a thing as being overprotective. As Millie says, there are times when the idea of changing yourself so you can be accepted by the world seems easier and less exhausting than changing the world’s way of thinking, but I really liked how she tried to fight against this kind of thinking. It was a struggle, but that’s what made it such a delightful book.
If there were any flaws in this novel, I’d say that it is just a liiiiiittle too similar to Dumplin’ in terms of plot. Millie is an overweight girl who is struggling for confidence and to grab her ambitions. She’s attracted to a boy, but she’s afraid to get too close to him because of how she looks, and she’s also afraid to go after what she wants because of her weight. Eventually, through the help of her kinda misfit friends, she goes after what she wants, despite having a parent trying to hold her back for fear of embarrassment. The book raises the same issues that appear in Dumplin’ in a similar way, and it feels a little like the plot is recycled, but honestly I enjoyed reading it so much that I didn’t really care. I loved having an excuse to dip back into the world Murphy has created, and I loved all the tiny glimpses of characters and places we’d encountered in the first book. Seeing Willowdean, the narrator of Dumplin,’ from another person’s POV was very interesting. You can’t help but cheer for the characters, each and every one of them, and you come away from this book feeling giddy and content. One of the quotes on the back of the book, given by John Corey Whaley [author of Where Things Come Back] says: “Dumplin’ should be required reading for anyone who has ever felt even slightly uncomfortable in his or her own skin.” Well, we also need to add Puddin’ to that list, because it is a glorious, fluffy, humorous and thought-provoking novel that brings back a great cast of characters and some important ideas about self-acceptance.
I’m giving Puddin’ an 8/10. It’s a truly delightful book, and despite the fact that it recycles several of the themes and plot points from Dumplin’ it is also a wonderful companion novel readers should be itching to get their hands on.
Puddin’ is going to be available in stores on the 8th May according to the jacket info, [probably the US release date] and the 17th May according to Amazon. If you live in the UK and wish to preorder it, you can do so through Waterstones here, Amazon UK here, and Book Depository here.