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Description⎮Reviewed Feb. 2017
Narrator: Eileen Stevens
Length: 9h 02m
4.5★ Audiobook⎮It’s the kind of iconic song that is bigger than geography or languages or religion. It’s “Jolene.”
Dumplin’ was such a kick. It oozed southern sass from the first sentence on. On the surface, this was a super fun, uplifting, and culturally rich story. The culture I’m referring to is that of the Texas beauty pageant circuit. Some aspects of it are almost stereotypical, but always entertaining.
But more than that, it felt so damn authentic that I was going “Yes, girl!” after every few passages. I related to Willowdean hard. Willowdean’s internal turmoil is something I think everyone can relate to in some form or another. I loved her approach to body positivity. It wasn’t just “Be comfortable in your own skin”, but also “It’s okay to struggle with being comfortable in your own skin”.
Willowdean’s struggle was on center stage throughout the story. Her struggle wasn’t with her body, but with the way others viewed her body. Willowdean was confident and insecure at the same time. That made her relatable and one of the most authentic characters I can recall, because humans aren’t just one thing. They are multitudes of things and sometimes those things clash with each other within the same person. Such complexity is what made Willowdean come alive. The minor characters also stood out as being multidimensional. Julie Murphy has a knack for creating incredibly lifelike characters.
Although I originally found Willowdean to be somewhat unendearing, I was eventually able to better understand her. Her personal insecurities translated into an abrasiveness that caused her to push most people away, including the reader. Her jealousy and pettiness kept me at an emotional distance for the first half of the story. I had absolutely no interest in the friendship drama between Willowdean and Ellen. The whole situation cast Willowdean in an unflattering light, which may have been the point. But honestly, I could have done without that subplot.
The real negative in my experience with Dumplin’ was the pacing of the story. It didn’t feel balanced. I was half way through the audiobook before the plot had a structure. I appreciate the buildup, but Murphy dragged things on a little too long before even teasing a plot direction. The writing was still excellent, so I wasn’t bored during the first half, just frustrated. After the first half, the plot started to take shape and I zoomed through to the ending, almost without putting it down. The character and atmospheric development were definitely highlighted, but maybe “milked” a little too much.
However, now that I know this is just the first installment in the Dumplin’ series, the initially underemphasized plot seems more fitting for a long term deal. If I had known that this was part of a series, my perspective during this listening experience may have been slightly altered. With that said, I’m ecstatic that there will be more Dumplin’ in my future! I’m really looking forward to witnessing more of Willodean’s personal growth.
Narration review: Literally, from the first sentence of this audiobook, I was a fan of Eileen Stevens. She gave one of the best performances I’ve heard in a long time. Her narration added so much to Dumplin’ that I can’t imagine having read this instead of heard it. Stevens nailed every single character with impeccable distinction. Not only did she enhance the development of individual characters, but also that of the overall atmospheric sense. Her southern accent was rich and sweet, just the way sweet tea should be. Dumplin’ was magnificent to experience in audio format. If you’re considering reading Dumplin’, listen to the audio sample first. Eileen Stevens breathes life into these characters and I can’t rave about her narration enough. ♣︎