SUMMARY: Sixteen-year old Willowdean Dickson knows she’s fat, but for the most part, she is happy with who she is and makes no apologies for her weight. She loves to hang out with her best friend Ellen and sing Dolly Parton songs at the top of her lungs. Willowdean’s mother, the director of the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant and former pageant winner, isn’t so approving of Willowdean’s weight, which causes lots of friction between the two. But when Willowdean falls for a boy at work–who seems to like her back–she starts to question herself. Bo is really cute–is Willowdean good enough for him? Will others laugh at them when they find out?
WHAT I LIKED: The setting. This was a cute story set in my home state of Texas, so right away, I identify with the setting. I love me some Texas, and I’ve missed it every day that I’ve been abroad. Any book set in Texas is like a little slice of home, which I am always grateful for.
Willowdean. LOVE HER! She’s fearless, confident, and funny while at the same time being insecure and worried about what others will think or say. I love the complexity of Willowdean’s character. Real people are made of all kinds of conflicting emotions, which can happen at any and all times. Will is both insecure and confident. She’s fearless and afraid. She’s funny and sad at the same time. Her character is real and perfect.
Lots of Dolly Parton references. Okay, a Dolly Parton obsession is a little strange to me, but I know that Dolly has a huge following that has spanned generations. And it makes sense that Willowdean’s first introduction to Dolly was from her beloved aunt, who was extremely overweight and died six months before the novel begins. Grief and moving on is another huge theme in the novel.
Realistic relationships. Will’s friendship with Ellen goes through some growing pains, which are also realistic. Though both girls’ decisions made me mad at times, I know from personal experience that sometimes friends grow in different directions, and it’s not always possible to recover what once was.
The two love-interests in the story, Bo and Mitch, are also well-drawn. Mitch is a sweet friend, but he wants to be more to Will. Bo is the one Will really likes, the one she has a spark with. But she is afraid of him, too. He is really cute, and it isn’t just Willowdean who thinks so. He causes her insecurities to come out big-time, and Will is suddenly unsure of herself and her body.
The front cover. It says it all (but does give away a little bit of the ending). It captures Will’s character and confidence perfectly.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: It’s a little slow at times and reads more like a slice-of-life than a conflict-driven novel. Conflicts range from friends fighting, romantic confusion, grief over a recent death, and body image issues, but none of these conflicts really made me feel driven to read until 2am. Yes, these are all realistic problems that all teens face eventually, but I never wondered about what was going to happen. I read because I loved the characters, not because I felt any suspense or heart-pounding moments.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A character-driven story about all kinds of different relationships set in a small Texas town. Read it for the characters and to get a little piece of Texas life. If you are looking for action or suspense or even romantic tension, look elsewhere.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: I am in a Grade 6-12 international school library now, and since I started there, I’ve added several books that I love that happen to be set in Texas. For high school librarians in Texas or even in the deep south, this one is a MUST. For high school librarians in other states, it is recommended if you want character- and relationship- driven stories that many girls will relate to. For international librarians, it’s just optional. I just don’t see this one being a huge hit in my current library.
- Overall: 4/5
- Creativity: 3/5
- Characters: 5/5
- Engrossing: 3/5
- Writing: 4/5
- Appeal to teens: 4/5
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 3/5
- Language: high–includes 14 F-bombs; more than 30 sh**
- Sexuality: medium–best friend loses her virginity and talks about it in multiple conversations (it’s not sexually descriptive–more about her emotions); kissing and “making out”
- Violence: mild–some bullying/mean girl stuff
- Drugs/Alcohol: mild–Will’s mother drinks bottle of champagne and offers some to Will (which she accepts)
- Other: Will and her friends attend a drag show; two minor characters are drag queens