by Julie Murphy
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Clover City is back in this companion novel to Dumplin’. This time with Willowdean’s new friend Millie Michalchuk at the center, alternating with popular girl Callie Reyes. When Callie’s dance team loses its funding to compete for the national title, they take it out on the local business responsible: Millie’s uncle’s gym. But Callie is the only one recognizable from the security camera footage, so she’s left to work off the charges alone. Over the months as she works alongside Millie at the gym’s front desk, the two unexpectedly become friends, and what comes of it is amazing (though their motivations are not always clear). Millie draws Callie into her circle of friends who are somewhat diverse in both race and sexual orientation, complete with a brief-but-good slumber party conversation about asexuality.
Millie is on her own journey, one that has, at the outset, very little to do with Callie. She has a burgeoning relationship with Malik, which she is forbidden from pursuing because her parents are very strict (at least, she hopes it’s that and not that they’re racist). She is also trying to figure out how to avoid being sent to fat camp yet again and instead do a broadcast journalism program at UT-Austin. Her mother, ever the realist, tries to teach Millie that the world is biased against fat women on TV, especially as news anchors, but that doesn’t deter Millie. In the end, though, she needs Callie’s help and bravery.
The two girls feed off each other’s enthusiasm, confidence, and bravery for each other’s battles. Landing perfectly in the #metoo era, this book sends a powerful message of sisterhood and the importance of getting beyond messages of drama and competitiveness to tackle the real issues, the systemic misogyny that keeps women down. At the end, Millie is fat-shamed again by someone in “the real world” and stands up for herself (with the help of another overweight woman) in a very well-articulated way.
I was thinking of how to describe this book, especially in comparison to Dumplin’, and then I read Murphy’s acknowledgements, at the end of which she sums it up perfectly: “If Dumplin’ was about coming to terms with your own body, Puddin’ is about demanding that the world do the same. I wrote this book for all the fat kids who have waited too damn long for the world to accept them. Stop waiting. The revolution starts with and belongs to you.”