Big Bones by Laura Dockrill
From Goodreads: A heart-warming teen story from the unique voice of Laura Dockrill, about Bluebelle, aka BB, aka Big Bones – a sixteen-year-old girl encouraged to tackle her weight even though she’s perfectly happy, thank you, and getting on with her life and in love with food. Then a tragedy in the family forces BB to find a new relationship with her body and herself. Moving, memorable and hilarious.
Thank you to Netgalley for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Please note that this review will contain spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book and plan to, you should bookmark this page and click back when you’ve finished the book.
When I saw the synopsis of this book, my toes practically curled with delight. I’ve recently finished re-reading Dumplin’ and Julie Murphy’s new release, Puddin’ and I loved the way Murphy managed to fuse laugh out loud humour with a message about body-positivity. Her books are an ode to learning how to love yourself and be confident, regardless of shape or size. And I hoped, going into this book, that this would offer up the same kind of meal, something juicy and delightful and honest.
Unfortunately, that’s not quite what I took away from this book. It’s meant to be a kind of food diary, with main character Bluebelle explaining what she ate each day to the incredibly mean nurse at the start of the novel who bluntly tells her she is fat and needs to get her life together. Um… What we actually get is a kind of love letter to food, with entries about the glory of foods like crumpets and shepherd’s pie which correlate to the events which are going on in Bluebelle’s life. Which is fine, I guess, but the problem I have with it is that it seems to be promoting something that is less body confidence and more negative stereotypes of fatness. In Dumplin’ Murphy’s character enjoyed eating, and struggled to lose weight on diets, but it was also stressed that she was just not capable of losing weight. It was her body, and she was stuck with it, and so she needed to learn to be satisfied with that. Bluebelle, on the other hand, just enjoys eating. Not everything she eats is unhealthy, but she does snack a lot and resists demands that she exercise to balance this out. Obviously, this does reflect some people. I’m not saying it doesn’t. A lot of people are overweight because they like to eat a lot. But it also doesn’t do much for body confidence messages either, if the main character of Big Bones is trying to both have her cake and eat it. We already get enough fat-shaming from magazines and social media and on the street, and although Big Bones is trying to have a more positive outlook on it, it falls pretty short of the mark.
Particularly in the second half of the novel after Dove’s accident. I get BB feeling guilty about telling her to be brave, and some of the guilt she must feel about being able to walk while her sister has to use a wheelchair, but I still feel like the novel falls flat somewhere along the line. After this huge event, Bluebelle decides to start going to the gym and be healthier, and again while I commend this whole argument for trying to be the change you wish to see, I feel it is also kinda reductive and too simplified. Bluebelle does also go through a loss of appetite here, which makes things a bit more complicated for me to understand as a reader, but I thought the fact that she started losing weight so fast was a bit problematic, since it suggests to anyone reading that literally all you need to do is not eat as much and work out and suddenly the pounds will start dropping off and you’ll learn to love the gym if you just try it, because it really is easy and not all that intimidating. Again, this might help some people. BB has just finished her GCSEs and it feels like she hasn’t quite gotten her life together yet, so I guess maybe the whole thing about learning to be an adult and look after yourself might be a positive message to some people, but I still can’t help but find it pretty reductive in terms of promoting body confidence and trying to explore why people might be overweight. Like I said, over-eating is a part of the problem for some people, but there’s enough media out there trying to promote this one-size fits all myth that people only ever get overweight because they eat too much, and that dieting and exercise is a sure-fire way to get skinny again. Dumplin’ did so well because it challenged this myth. I feel as though Big Bones tries to do the same thing, but doesn’t really succeed, and it left me feeling a bit disappointed and frustrated because I could see the potential.
I’m giving Big Bones 5/10 stars. The book is pretty funny, and there’s some awesome raw emotional moments too, but I don’t like the stereotypes or the way food is shown in the novel and it seems as though it is a bit uncertain about what it is trying to say. The main character is reduced almost entirely to her obsession with food, and it seems as though there’s not much more substance to the storyline beyond that.
Has anyone else read this novel? What did you think of it? Join the debate by leaving a comment 😀