Whether readers are familiar with Julie Murphy's Dumplin' or not, they will find plenty to love in Puddin'.
Murphy's follow-up features contestants Millie Michalchuk and Callie Reyes from Clover City, Texas's Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant, two girls who--at first glance--couldn't be more different. Millie isn't the most popular girl at Clover City High School; in fact, due to her weight, she's usually the object of jokes. Even though she is bullied, Millie isn't a loner--she values her friendships and works diligently to keep them strong. Callie, on the other hand is beautiful, popular and dating a hunk. She rolls with the "in" crowd but her friendships tend to be superficial, based mostly on how they advance her status with Clover City High School's premier dance team. When unfortunate circumstances bring the two girls' worlds crashing together, neither is ready for the results.
The authenticity of Murphy's characters makes Puddin' more than a fun, breezy read. Millie's constant battle to believe in herself and be stronger than the bullies will ring true with anyone who has ever experienced some form of harassment. Millie is proud of who she is but she still has to do a daily cost-benefit analysis: "Is this floral tunic too loud? Is me being happy wearing it worth the attention it will cost me?" Callie also deals with bias and stereotypes, and even struggles to fit in with her own family: darker coloring inherited from her father's Mexican roots make Callie feel like an outsider with her very white mother, stepfather and half-sister.
Above all, Puddin' is an enchanting salute to female relationships with potent themes like the value of friendship, the cost of bigotry and the vast potential of girl power. --Jen Forbus, freelancer