If you read Dumplin’, you loved it. (If you didn’t love it, I’m not sure you read Dumplin’.) It’s bold, it’s affirming, it’s one of the most perfect, heartwarming, and riotous self love journeys in contemporary YA.
This May, actual goddess Julie Murphy blessed us with a companion novel, Puddin’, starring Millie and Callie, two side characters from Dumplin’. If you read my book hype, you know that I had some trepidation about Puddin’, specifically regarding the character of Callie. I wasn’t feeling very receptive towards a character arc where I’d be expected to 1) gain an glimpse into her inner world and 2) immediately understand her past actions and forgive her for the crappy things she did in the past.
Granted, my trepidation was pretty minor. I trust Julie Murphy. If she wants me in Callie’s head, it’s for a reason.
Quick note before we get into it: this is a companion novel to Dumplin’, not necessarily a direct sequel. I would recommend reading Dumplin’ first, so you get the full scope of character arcs. However, it’s not going to drastically reduce the quality of your experience if you read Puddin’ first. Just so you know.
There are lots of fantastic things to say about Puddin’, but I’m going to keep it short, and avoid spoilers wherever possible. Here we go!
Puddin’ follows Millie and Callie, alternating between their 1st person POVs as they grow from strangers to coworkers to friends to the ultimate level of YA camaraderie, road trip buddies. It is the Leah on the Offbeat to Dumplin’s Simon Vs. While Dumplin’ focused on the who am I, the companion takes it a step further and asks where do I go from here?
Chronologically, it takes place in the months following Dumplin’. Millie has already had a transformative self love experience in the Clover City beauty pageant. So, unlike Willowdean, Millie’s journey is not one of self love, it’s demanding that the rest of the world respect her as much as she respects herself. This represents an evolution of the self love journey that most stories leave to the epilogue, so I really admire and appreciate that we get to immerse ourselves in that struggle with Millie.
Who, let’s be real, is one of the most perfect role models for young women ever. May we all be as optimistic and hard working and determined and true to ourselves as Millie.
As for our other narrator…I struggled with Callie. I disliked being inside her head. She’s mean, she’s petty, and she’s selfish. It was a strange experience to so actively root against someone. Even with anti-heroes, I think you’re supposed to want them to succeed, but (for the most part) I didn’t want Callie to achieve her goals because her goals were mean, petty, and selfish.
However, upon reflection, I think that’s pretty brilliant. We all know girls like Callie. Those Slytherin girls exist, and their experiences are just as worthy of time on the page as soft Hufflepuffs or bold Gryffindors.
As a writer, I have mad respect for Murphy’s ability to take a prickly, highly unlikable character and give them positive growth, dimension, and redemption without sacrificing the core of who they are. Everyone does stupid stuff in high school, but not everyone overcomes the stupid stuff they do in high school, and I think Callie’s journey provides a fantastic road map on how to do that.
So, the characters are A+. The plot? Also solid. The contrast of Millie and Callie (who work directly against each other more than once in the first half of the book) is a true roller coaster experience. I thought both young women had excellent moments of triumph, both individually and together.
And of course, Murphy is a phenomenal writer who so perfectly marries her activism into her storytelling. (She gets major kudos for writing one of the best examples of asexual rep I’ve encountered. I’d never seen the phrase biromantic asexual on the page before, but there it was. I cried a bit.)
At first, I was only giving this 4 Stars, because it wasn’t Dumplin’. Upon reflection, I find that a silly reason not to give an incredible book the 5 Stars it earned. Dumplin’ paved the way, yes, but Puddin’ is also an amazing achievement. I see them as equals, and they are both equally worth your time. I cannot rec them hard enough.
Pick this up if you’re seeking books about…
- fat positivity and fat activism
- strong, dynamic female friendships
- fierce young women who go after what they want
- girls who work hard to redeem themselves
- finding true friends
- being yourself regardless of criticism