Each month the RT editors select one book that is not only compelling, but pushes the boundaries of genre fiction. This book stands out from all the others reviewed that month, in the magazine issue and on the website. September 2015’s RT Seal of Excellence — the editors’ pick for best book of the month — is awarded to Julie Murphy‘s YA novel Dumplin’.
Believe the hype. Dumplin’ is absolutely sensational. Willowdean Dickson is a lovable, relatable heroine with an abiding love for Dolly Parton (and who doesn’t love Dolly?!) and for her best friend, Ellen Dryver. Right from the start, the narrative voice Murphy gives to Willowdean is so strong — Dumplin‘ is consistently funny, bittersweet and totally captivating. As Willowdean grapples with her burgeoning sexuality, her shifting and occasionally tense friendship with Ellen, and vacillates between a mature, healthy body image and all of the normal insecurities of adolescence, she truly comes into her own. And, with or without a pageant crown to show for it, that’s coming out on top. — Regina Small
I had been hearing about Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ for weeks before I finally read it, and I was incredibly nervous that it would be all hype. Oh, how happy I was to find out it was all it was cracked up to be — and then some! Willowdean Dickson reminds me of myself when I was younger, only so, so much braver and bolder and self-assured. I wish I’d had her chutzpah when I was 16 — or even now. That’s not to say she’s perfect, though I wanted to believe she is. She’s human, and she has flaws (though her weight isn’t one of them). And seeing her own that? Own her mistakes and her shortcomings and everything else, and to do it for her own peace of mind and not because someone told her she needed to? That was just … all the things! I definitely ugly-cried on the bus reading this one, and I would do it again in a heartbeat if it meant another few charming pages full of Willowdean. — Jennifer Peters
I had the good luck of snagging an advance copy of Dumplin’ at the 2015 RT Convention way back in May and I’ve been waiting, not so patiently, for everyone else to read it so that I could discuss the awesomeness with someone — anyone! I’m so, so excited for Willowdean to shine, as only she can. This is an important book for the YA genre, and I just know everyone’s going to love it, appreciate it, treasure it. The small-town setting, the unconventional band of friends, the pageant, it’s all so heartwrenching and true and wonderful. Yay, Dumplin’! — Elissa Petruzzi
I can’t say enough good things about Dumplin’. It’s great to have a protagonist who is overweight, but whose sole problem isn’t the number on the scale. Willowdean’s sense of self and her confidence are the kind of things I’d like to see in more YA protagonists. Dumplin’ examines what it’s like to grow up different and in someone else’s glamorous shadow in a small town. A less skilled writer would have given Willowdean’s fellow pageant wreckers flat personalities, but Murphy outfits each one with more depth than I’m used to seeing in side characters. This book makes you cheer for all of the characters, even as they make realistic mistakes. — Sarah McDaniel Dyer
Here are the other books we considered for our August 2015 Seal of Excellence Award:
Sara Humphreys‘ Brave the Heat reminds us that true love really can conquer all. Jordan’s past is dark and painful, but her love for her daughters provides an infallible strength, helping her to prevail. When her long lost love Gavin enters the picture, he gives the reader everything one could possibly want in a romantic hero. From his career as a fire chief to his crippling sense of accountability to his absolute adoration for Jordan and her girls, Gavin is utterly swoon-worthy at every turn. A mysterious arsonist unleashes a dark cloud over the romance, adding a touch of suspense, but the culprit is pretty easy to spot if you’re paying attention. Simply put, this story has it all: love, sex, suspense, danger — and just a hint of magic. — Kristin Wise