This book was super cute and sort of made me feel like I was on the verge of tears the entire time? Part of that was PMS, sure, but another big part of that is that reading this sort of felt like someone was poking me right in the center of my cold, dead heart. Which is uncomfortable.
Willowdean is a fat (she doesn’t say overweight, she doesn’t see anything wrong with describing herself as fat) teenager living in a small Texas town as obsessed with the local beauty pageant as Dillon, Texas is obsessed with football (which, if you haven’t seen Friday Night Lights, and if you haven’t WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, is a lot). She is struggling with the death of her aunt, Lucy, who died not long before the novel opened. It’s something that hangs over her head, as she and her mother are still living in the home they shared with Lucy. Lucy weighed almost 500 pounds at the time of her death, and died of a heart attack. Willowdean and her mother struggle with their differing forms of grief for Lucy.
Willowdean’s mother is the head of the town’s popular pageant, having won it when she was a teenager herself. Willowdean feels that her mother doesn’t respect her for what she is, specifically when it comes to her weight, partly because of her continuing obsession with this pageant, a testament to the pinnacle of female beauty and perfection. Willowdean had been put on many diets when she was younger, as a result of her mother’s unhappiness with her own body. Her mother was also overweight as a teenager and, though it’s hard to take her side on this, we can guess that watching her only sister, Lucy, die so young as a result of her weight was hard on her.
In any case, we’re on Willowdean’s side, because she’s sassy, confident (though she doesn’t feel it very often), and a good friend (most of the time). Plus she’s the damn protagonist, so we want her mom to lay off already about her weight.
Since she’s a teenager, she’s caught in some high-stakes romantic entanglements. Willowdean falls for a handsome, quiet coworker at the fast food place where she works. They have a bit of a secret thing until Willowdean feels that she’s being taken advantage of. She then meets another boy named Mitch, who is very nice and seems to really like her. She, of course, struggles with the fact that he likes her (since it feels nice to be liked) but that she may not like him in the same way he likes her (I just said like a lot like like like). Which is always a bummer, and tough to navigate, but made tougher by the fact that this is the first time it’s happened to her.
The relationship I was most interested in, however, was that of Willowdean and her best friend Ellen. They’ve been friends from a very young age after bonding over their love of Dolly Parton (naturally). They begin to grow apart for several reasons, including Ellen’s relationship with both her boyfriend and a new friend, and Willowdean’s reluctance to tell Ellen about her secret “fling.” Friendship growth is always tough, particularly when one side is hiding something from the other, or, as in Willowdean’s case, worrying about one friend moving forward without the other. I found myself identifying a lot with this in particular, even though I am very far removed from a high school student at this point in my life. However, I still feel myself falling behind my friends at times, especially those who have started to have children. As more and more of my friends have kids, I feel the gulf opening between their lives and mine. I don’t have kids, and don’t particularly want them at this point, but it still feels like they’ve been inducted into a club I have no part in even pretending I’m a part of. It’s tough to navigate and I’m (allegedly) an adult, so I don’t know how teenagers handle anything like that. FEELINGS ARE HARD.
Anyway. This is the first novel of Julie Murphy’s that I’ve read, but I look forward to reading more. Four stars!