“There’s something about swimsuits that make you think you’ve got to earn the right to wear them. And that’s wrong. Really, the criteria is simple. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it.”
This is just one of the wonderful nuggets of truth featured in Julie Murphy’s body positive YA novel and now Netflix Original movie, Dumplin’. For too many years, YA novels (and the media/entertainment industry in general) has had pitiful representation of fat bodies. If and when they’re even in existence in these worlds created, fat characters and their bodies are portrayed as evil, something to avoid or, most classically, the funny friend. Simply put, plus size characters are often used as a device to show everything the protagonist isn’t and doesn’t want to be. Clearly, this sucks but thankfully, slowly but surely, it looks like things are starting to change.
With Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ getting it’s own movie on Netflix, featuring Danielle Macdonald, a plus-sized actress playing a plus-sized character and not a thin actress in a fat suit (this shouldn’t be a big deal but apparently it is), Jennifer Aniston and music from Dolly Parton, Dumplin’ is paving the way for future fat-positive novels, movies and TV shows.
So today it’s time to celebrate the bodies that have gone unrepresented for far too long, with some wonderful body positive YA books fans of Dumplin’ will adore.
Puddin’ by Julie Murphy
If you haven’t already read Dumplin’ or weren’t aware of its existence before watching the movie, you also may not be aware it has a companion sequel of sorts, following some of the supporting characters featured in book one.
Millie Michalchuk has gone to fat camp every year since she was a girl. Not this year. This year she has new plans to chase her secret dream—and to kiss her crush. Callie Reyes is the pretty girl who is next in line for dance team captain and has the popular boyfriend. But when it comes to other girls, she’s more frenemy than friend. When circumstances bring the girls together over the course of a semester, they will surprise everyone (especially themselves) by realising they might have more in common than they ever imagined.
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
If you loved Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli’s uplifting, body positive contemporary, The Upside of Unrequited, is a must-read. The relationship the main character, Molly Peskin-Suso (cousin to Abby Suso from Love, Simon), has with her body and anxiety is refreshing, relatable and a much-needed breath of fresh air in terms of seeing fat teen protagonists represented in YA.
Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.
Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.
There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?
The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding
Seventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby has stayed focused on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a prized internship at her favourite local boutique, she’s thrilled to take her first step into her dream career. She doesn’t expect to fall for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Abby knows it’s a big no-no to fall for a colleague. She also knows that Jordi documents her whole life in photographs, while Abby would prefer to stay behind the scenes.
Then again, nothing is going as expected this summer. She’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win a paid job at the boutique. She’s somehow managed to befriend Jax, a lacrosse-playing bro type who needs help in a project that involves eating burgers across L.A.’s eastside. Suddenly, she doesn’t feel like a sidekick. Is it possible Abby’s finally in her own story?
But when Jordi’s photography puts Abby in the spotlight, it feels like a betrayal, rather than a starring role. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image that other people have of her?
There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon
There’s Something About Sweetie sounds like it’s about to join Sandhya Menon’s first two novels, When Dimple Met Rishi and From Twinkle, With Love, in making YA’s rom-com dreams come true. Unfortunately, it’s not released until May 2019 but if anything’s worth the wait, it’s a book about a headstrong, fat, Indian-American runner falling in love and showing the world what she’s made of.
Ashish Patel didn’t know love could be so…sucky. After he’s dumped by his ex-girlfriend, his mojo goes AWOL. Even worse, his parents are annoyingly, smugly confident they could find him a better match. So, in a moment of weakness, Ash challenges them to set him up.
The Patels insist that Ashish date an Indian-American girl—under contract. Per subclause 1(a), he’ll be taking his date on “fun” excursions like visiting the Hindu temple and his eccentric Gita Auntie. Kill him now. How is this ever going to work?
Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat. To Sweetie’s traditional parents, this last detail is the kiss of death.
Sweetie loves her parents, but she’s so tired of being told she’s lacking because she’s fat. She decides it’s time to kick off the Sassy Sweetie Project, where she’ll show the world (and herself) what she’s really made of.
Ashish and Sweetie both have something to prove. But with each date, they realize there’s an unexpected magic growing between them. Can they find their true selves without losing each other?
To Be Honest by Maggie Ann Martin
As well as wonderful fat representation and an adorable romance, To Be Honest also features a main character living with anxiety and superb truths such as, “News flash: fat isn’t a bad word.”
Savannah is dreading being home alone with her overbearing mother after her sister goes off to college. But if she can just get through senior year, she’ll be able to escape to college, too. What she doesn’t count on is that her mother’s obsession with weight has only grown deeper since her appearance on an extreme weight-loss show, and now Savvy’s mom is pressuring her even harder to be constantly mindful of what she eats.
Between her mom’s diet-helicoptering, missing her sister, and worrying about her collegiate future, Savvy has enough to worry about. And then she meets George, the cute new kid at school who has insecurities of his own. As Savvy and George grow closer, they help each other discover how to live in the moment and enjoy the here and now before it disappears.
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
With mystery, magic, murder, intersectional feminism and plus size black Mexican Wiccan teen, Undead Girl Gang ticks all the boxes for an addictive and empowering read.
Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There’s not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley’s favorite activity: amateur witchcraft.
So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone’s explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.
Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer…before the killer strikes again.
Moonstruck, Volume One: Magic to Brew by Grace Ellis
For a quick, adorable read with stunning artwork, a diverse cast of characters, paranormal elements and the cutest f/f romance, Moonstruck, a graphic novel by Grace Ellis, is the way to go.
Werewolf barista Julie and her new girlfriend go on a date to a close-up magic show, but all heck breaks loose when the magician casts a horrible spell on their friend Chet. Now it’s up to the team of mythical pals to stop the illicit illusionist before it’s too late.