Full disclosure: I'm a middle-aged, married mom who's a teeny, tiny bit obsessed with teen fiction. Not that I'm a creeper or anything. But my teenage angst phase is more like a personality trait. I relate to people who feel uncomfortable and awkward. People who lack confidence and discipline. People who float through life like they haven't got a clue. More often than not, that's not adults. Something about growing up in our society makes people cocky. It changes people. It makes them think they're some kind of authority figure or expert on life. Not me. That's why I like teen fiction.
The best teen fiction features beautifully flawed characters I can relate to. Especially teen fiction about girls. Adults in our society too often ridicule teenage girls. Silly things. So easily upset. So emotional. So moody and self-absorbed and myopic. They brush off their thoughts and feelings as insignificant. Good teen fiction, like Dumplin' by Julie Murphy, takes teenager's thoughts and feelings seriously.
Cuz guess what? It is serious. And fun. And ridiculous. And profound. But never insignificant.
When we're experiencing first love, we all feel awkward. And exhilarated. When we're not kids anymore, but not adults yet either, we're caught between feeling independent from our parents (I am NOT going to be like Mom and Dad!) and wanting to cling to them and have them assure us that everything will be OK.
When I read good teen fiction, like Dumplin', I feel like I'm reading my high school diary. The one I tossed into the dumpster years ago in a fit of embarrassment. When I was a teenager, I couldn't stand adults who gave me unsolicited advice, so I'll understand if you skip this part: If I could somehow time-travel back to my teenage years, I'd tell myself to hang on. To life itself, yes, but also--to my diary! I never should have thrown it away! Embarrassing? Yes. But I poured my heart out into that little book. Now that I'm middle-aged, madly in love, married to the perfect guy for me, in a good place in my life, I would love to read over my old diary from high school. To reconnect with my younger self. What was I thinking all those years ago, tossing out my thoughts like they were trash.
I can't change the past. I'll never get my teenage diary back again. And so, I read good teen fiction. Like Dumplin'. Go read it. If you at all like realistic fiction about quirky, if not a little cray-cray, characters, you'll love Dumplin'. Fans of John Green's Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower will especially appreciate this beautiful book. I haven't really told you what it's about, but it doesn't matter. You can read any old blurb to figure that out. What I'm telling you is this:
Good fiction speaks to us on a level we understand deeply. This is good fiction. Teen or not.
Grownups, if you happen to be reading this review, and you don't remember what it's like to be a teenager, you probably won't appreciate Dumplin' too much. But I do. I feel like I've found my long lost self, and I just can't help but keep smiling and cheering her on.