Book Review: Puddin'
Murphy, Julie. Puddin’. Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2018.
One of my favorite reads of 2017 was Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’, the tale of a plus-size teenager who obsesses over Dolly Parton and decides to defy conventions and enter a Texas beauty pageant. I was thrilled to learn the book was being adapted into a movie, and I hoped Murphy’s newest novel—Puddin’, a companion novel to Dumplin’—would hold me over until the movie’s release.
Puddin’ follows two characters from the Dumplin’ universe: Millie and Callie. Millie’s life isn’t easy—she’s bullied for her weight at school and has strict parents who seem intent on sending her to fat camp each summer. Millie’s crush is also warm and talkative online, yet shrinks away when they see one another at school. Millie fights her hardships with optimism, organization, and crafting. Nothing can prepare her, though, for the moment when she walks into her part-time job at her uncle’s boxing gym to find the entire place vandalized. From the camera footage, Millie is able to indentify only one assailant—school bully Callie. How will outing Callie change Millie’s life? Will she ever work up the courage to tell her mother that she doesn’t want to return to fat camp? Will she and her crush ever define their relationship and make it public?
Callie’s life revolves around the Shamrocks, the school’s dance team. Her mother, too, is a former Shamrock, and Callie hopes the team can possibly make it to nationals. This dream, however, is cut short when Callie learns that they are seriously underfunded thanks to a local boxing gym ending their sponsorship. Callie’s teammates vow to take revenge, and as their crime comes to light, it is Callie that they throw under the bus. Callie is removed from the dance team, severely grounded, and must work at the gym to pay for the damages. Will she make friends with her sole co-worker—fat girl and social outcast Millie? Will she ever find out who identified her to the police? Will she ever again don a Shamrock uniform?
Julie Murphy has, once again, written a deeply entertaining and moving novel. Although Dumplin’ still remains my favorite of her works, I stayed up until nearly 3 AM finishing Puddin’. Beyond the fun storyline, the book is full of great feminist themes. The girls discuss the stereotype of female friendships as being catty and competitive when, in reality, having a close group of girlfriends often buoys a woman through life’s hardships. I also particularly loved Murphy’s characterization of Callie. So many YA novels present bullies as flat antagonists. Callie is not the purely shallow, mean-spirited girl that readers have come to expect. Also, Millie’s romance left me—a 32-year-old woman—with butterflies.
Puddin’ is largely perfect; my complains about the novel were nitpicky. As a former high school teacher, there were moments where I felt the dialogue was a bit too syrupy sweet and formal to be realistic. Again, this was possibly one of the few flaws in a superb story.