I’m scared to review this book.
Honestly. I’m scared I’ll say something wrong. I’m scared I’ll step over the lines of what I can share online, or that I’ll hurt someone’s feelings. But I want to talk about it. So here goes.
I read Ramona Blue & Dumplin’ very late last year, and I was excited to find Puddin’ at the library. It carries on the story of some of the characters from Dumplin’ and honestly that’s about all I knew going in.
After a long Monday, I knew it was time to disconnect from my computer for awhile, and Puddin’ was the perfect book for that. I read it straight through in a single sitting, and it was absolutely the breath of fresh air I needed.
I love Julie Murphy’s writing. It’s gorgeous and believable first person without ever being cringey, which, tbh, I find less and less common in YA. The chapters alternate points of view between Millie and Callie, who are classmates and eventually end up working together in the gym that Millie’s uncle owns.
Millie is a driven optimist who wants to become a TV anchor, and she’s wrestling with moving away from dieting obsession, one of the major bonds she shares with her mother. On top of that, she’s trying to keep her friend group together and find out what’s going on with the boy she likes (and who maybe likes her??).
Callie is a popular girl who’s dating a football player and gunning for captain of her school’s dance squad, which has been her singular focus since she was little. When things go terribly wrong, she has to cope with losing her focus and point of connection to her mother.
I’m not going to say a lot more about the plot, per my own strong preference for going into books completely blind. But I have a lot to say about the book.
First: this book is such strong writing that I was never, ever distracted from what was happening. I love a wide range of YA books, but some of them feel very shallow. When I finish, I know they won’t stick with me, and honestly, I hardly think of them again after writing a review. With those books, the complications for the characters often just feel like plot hurdles thrown in the way of a happy ending. X happened, Y happened, here comes the predictable hurdle, resolution, yay. From a stripped-down listing of plot elements, Puddin’ does some of the same things, but Murphy’s writing, so tightly woven and grounded in truth, makes the reading a joy.
Second: let’s talk about weight. Many of Murphy’s main characters are fat. That’s a very personal issue for Murphy. She’s fat, and it’s pretty clear that a lot of the under-pinnings of the characters are drawn from her own experiences and from how involved she is in conversations about being fat.
I’ve been reluctant to talk about fatness. I’m afraid I’ll do it wrong, afraid I’ll hurt someone, afraid I shouldn’t be speaking into this. [Also: because this blog isn’t completely anonymous, afraid of what the people who know me in real life will think or say.] After a lot of consideration, I decided not talking about it is probably more hurtful than fumbling a little, so I’m going to try.
Here’s me, going in: I’m skinny and have been my whole life. It’s genetic mostly, and maybe a little bit conditioning from growing up, but it doesn’t take much effort for me. So I long thought that weight issues didn’t affect me, and I had very little understanding of reality. For the longest time I couldn’t understand that bodies respond so differently to things, and that keeping a low weight wasn’t as easy for most people as it was for me (through literally no credit to me. I’m not a very healthy person.).
I’m deeply grateful to the women who have been willing to tell their stories about weight, about bodies, about how it is to live in this world as fat. Fit Is A Feminist Issue has introduced me to some of those conversations, and @yrfatfriend to many more. Julie Murphy is another welcome voice as I listen hard and wrestle with my own attitude about weight.
Because here is the unfortunate truth: I’m not that different from Callie, who is athletic and prone to making extremely hurtful comments to fat people. Part of that is ignorance, part of it is learned behavior. It’s something I’ve had to work on a lot the past few years. I’ve had to come to terms with attitudes I learned that were wrong, and reshape how I love people regardless of their bodies.
Many of the people I love are fat. I’ve learned a lot by listening to their stories and asking questions. Brene Brown says, “People are hard to hate close up. Move in.” While I don’t think I hated fat people, I certainly judged them. Moving in has taught me a lot.
And listening to these conversations has prompted a lot of thinking. It’s helped me realize how much the dangerous and toxic rhetoric around weight affects all of us, of all genders and sizes. There’s another concept from Brene Brown, which I can’t quote exactly, but is essentially: when I loosen the web for someone else, I loosen it for myself. Because even not-fat or “straight-sized” people are being harmed by the toxic approach to exercise, food, and appearance.
There’s a lot else to love about Puddin’—great female friendships, excellent character development, themes about race, class, and gender—but it would take too long to expand on all those.
Just take my word for it that this is a book for everyone. Puddin’ is an excellent addition to many important conversations, and a thought starter for sure.