Review: Fat Angie by e. E. Charlton-Trujillo

Fat Angie book coverI’ll start off by saying that this is an unusual book. This is mostly because of the point of view, which I’ll go into more below.

The novel is about a girl named Angie who had a very public emotional breakdown after her sister was captured and presumably killed in Iraq. Angie’s convinced she’s still alive, but no one else believes that. Before the book opens, Angie started falling apart—she gained a great deal of weight and tried to kill herself in front of a packed gym.

It’s not clear whether the bullying started before her sister went missing, but as the book opens, it’s vicious. There’s one particularly mean girl, but everyone mocks her for being fat and many people taunt her about her missing sister. Even her own adopted brother makes fun of her. Her mother is impatient with her and thinks she’s doing everything for attention. Her mom even found a therapist for Angie who’s totally unsympathetic.

Then her neighbor, a popular boy named Jake, sort of befriends Angie. And a new girl named KC arrives. KC isn’t impressed by all the popular kids and instead gravitates toward Angie. Soon they become friends and maybe more, but it’s a relationship full of turmoil. Because in their conservative town, being different isn’t very acceptable. Angie’s mom can’t tolerate her being with a girl, which creates the first rift. Things degenerate from there.

During all this, Angie decides to try out for the varsity basketball team because before her sister joined the military, she was a basketball star. She starts training for it with Jake’s help and tries out. The rest of the story follows her basketball pursuit and her relationships with KC, her brother, Jake, and her mom.

I mentioned the point of view above—in most contemporary YA, it’s 1st person, though 3rd person close isn’t unusual. 1st person just means it’s told using “I” and we get deep into the main character’s mind. 3rd person means “he/she” is used for the main character and the “close” just implies we get to nearly the same level of emotional depth as with 1st. This book is 3rd but it doesn’t feel very close at all. Throughout the book, Angie is referred to as “Fat Angie” (by the author, I mean), which I found very distancing. I never did feel like I knew Angie that well. I knew she was fat and had no self-confidence, but that was about it.

There are also phrases that are repeated (such as Angie’s “couldn’t-be-bothered mom”), which also pulled me out of the story a little each time. And KC speaks in very distinct (and unfamiliar to me) slang, which I didn’t find totally credible. I think stylistically, the book is very unique and that could appeal to a lot of people, even though for me it was distracting and kept me from getting as into the story as I wanted. But it still is a lesbian coming-of-age story, something we don’t get a lot of (I think there are a lot more stories about gay boys than girls out there…), so it’s probably worth a peek if you are looking for that.

Review: My Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught

My Big Fat Manifesto book cover

Big Fat Manifesto (in the paperback edition the title starts with “My”) is another book about an overweight girl. Sort of like the heroine in Dumplin’, Jamie Carcaterra doesn’t carry around deep shame about being fat, though she does carry around a deep awareness of it and how she’s perceived as a result of it. And not surprisingly, she’s not quite as confident as she tries so hard to be. Regardless, for her senior year, she decides to write an entire column about weight and related issues in her school newspaper in the hopes of winning a specific journalism scholarship. But Jamie isn’t stuck in her room, hiding from the world, working on her column. No, she has a lot of other things going on—a couple close friends, a boyfriend, a school play.

The book is set up with Jamie’s articles breaking up the chapters, so we get a lot of her direct voice, and it’s really good. She’s smart and a tad snarky but not overly so. The articles are interesting and show a real understanding of what it is to be overweight in America now, and some of the things that are most irritating about the way the media and people in general perceive and talk about fat people. First off, she takes issue with that annoying thing they do when talking about large people on TV—show obese, headless torsos walking down the street. She refers to the “obesity epidemic” itself as “hoo-ha,” which cracked me up. She talks about the absurdity of sizing for women’s clothing (don’t get me started on the fact that I can’t get shirts with sleeves that actually reach my wrists, but that’s not in the book so I’ll stop). She calls out the fact that it’s become socially acceptable to mock fat people.

For a good portion of the book, much of her column centers around a major event in her life—her boyfriend, Burke, is having gastric bypass surgery because he too is morbidly obese. And Jamie doesn’t like this. She is concerned because of health reasons, but there’s also a little bit of her vulnerability coming into play. If he loses a bunch of weight, will he still be her Burke, and will he still care about her? He experiences several complications along the way, and that and her column lead to some twists in her quest for the scholarship.

Not everyone is going to appreciate Jamie’s voice. She is sort of an angry fat girl with a bone to pick, after all, but I think that the book makes a lot of really interesting points. And it definitely does it with style.

Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Dumplin' book cover

The fact that the main character in this book is fat is important. It is definitely about being a fat teenage girl. But it’s more than that, because Willowdean has more going on than that, seeing as she’s, you know, a person. It’s convincingly set in small-town Texas, which brings another element to the book. One of the things I really liked about it was all the details the author threw in—it really gave a good sense of what it’s like to live in a large body (in Texas, too).

Willowdean is very different from me—for one, she’s relatively confident. She doesn’t let it stop her from going swimming at a public pool, for instance. She’s very self-aware and aware of how she’s perceived but has just not let that get to her too much. But the main reason I found her confidence believable was because there are chinks in it. There’s a scene where she’s kissing Bo and he touches her side—where there is some noticeable fat—and she recoils, afraid he’ll “know”. Of course this is ridiculous because he already knows she’s big by looking at her, but it’s also totally natural on her part. Also, she assumes Bo is inherently better than she is because he’s a jock. She can’t really believe he likes her back—she thinks he’s just slummin’ it with a girl who’s convenient, basically (since they hang out after work). When something changes that dynamic, she assumes she’s going to be tossed to the side so she takes preemptive action, which I sort of understood (though I still felt like she overreacted, given the circumstances).

The book obviously deals with that relationship, but there are several other things going on (that take up more space, too). The pageant is the big one, but it ties in directly with her relationship with her mom. Willowdean thinks her mom doesn’t love her as much as she would a healthy-sized daughter, which is probably true. Also important is her friendship with her best friend Ellen, which is suddenly on hold basically because of something really selfish Willowdean says. Again this comes from those old insecurities. Those things have to get resolved.

I didn’t get super into the whole pageant thing as I do dislike them. But the book has an interesting, somewhat ambivalent take on them. Because the friends Willowdean ends up doing the pageant with are all different, and one of them does take it seriously. Also, there’s Dolly Parton all through the book, which is definitely different. On the whole, it’s a unique book in YA and I’d recommend it.

Buy Dumplin’ on Amazon US