Final Ruling: 4/5 stars
Can I just say… WOW
I haven’t adored a lighthearted contemporary novel this much since… well, since forever. Call me biased because of my own image problems, but a book about a self-proclaimed fat girl that doesn’t focus on her getting skinny is a new and extremely welcome change. However, there were various aspects of it that were irredeemable in my eyes, and so the beautiful story of an unapologetic fat girl was tainted.
First let’s get the negative aspect out of the way: this book was chock-full of GIRL HATE! Yes, the main character ends up mending the broken ties she makes in pursuit of acceptance, but the way in which those same ties were initially severed are quite unacceptable. From the very beginning the protagonist, Willowdean, is scathingly jealous of her best friend, Ellen, or as Will calls her, “El”. She idolizes El in a quite unhealthy way, and at the same time despises her because of her effortless beauty. So, when El finds a friend that, in Will’s eyes, is everything Will will never be, Willowdean freaks out, lashing out at everybody around her. Without even getting to know El’s new friend Calli, Will hates the girl, and basically forbids El to see her, which is not okay. In addition to hating on the pretty girls, Will is judgemental of the people who try to befriend her, looking down upon them for being fat, crippled, or having a not-so-pretty smile; now that is just blatantly hypocritical, and not in any way acceptable practice, no matter what you look like in comparison because girls need to stick together, not tear each other down (there are already enough people trying to do that anyways).
Regardless of the heartbreak brought on by such blatant girl hate, there were many many positive messages as well.
The first of these lovely messages lies in the way Will goes around kissing any boy she wants, and the way that her weight is not an issue. I know that it could be seen as a not-so-good thing, but to have my insecurities validated really does make me feel better, gives me hope in a world that tells people like Willowdean and myself that we cannot be loved because of the way we look.
On a less self-centered note, the gradual acceptance of Will by her mother is an extremely extremely important aspect of the work, one that I am unashamed to admit almost brought me to tears. Will’s mother, at the beginning of the book, is borderline rude, and it seems that she does resent her daughter for the way that she looks, but by the end, Willowdean’s mom comes through, helping out with pageant prep and respecting her daughter and her daughter’s body much more than she did at the beginning. Motherly love eventually wins out, and they call a fragile truce, ending in a heartwarming and humorous scene in which Ms. Dickson absolutely positively cannot get her dress to zip, only to be saved by Will, her words, and some industrial clips.
The overall heartwarming message is so extremely important and relevant, especially in our current world of fat-shaming and unrealistic expectations. As Will and her ragtag group of outcasts so beautifully showcase throughout the book: be unapologetically yourself, no matter what.
I would recommend this book to all of the girls in my life (and outside of it), because being yourself in today’s world is a hard thing, and sometimes we need a little reminder that it’s okay to stand out.