Tuesday, April 12, 2016

#AuthorApril: J is for Julie Murphy in our #AtoZChallenge

Dear Kim,

Thank you for sharing a bit about your new INKSpell publishing family. Those covers! Shoot. They are all awesome. I cannot wait to see your cover for Starr Fall.

Speaking of covers. How about this one?

Dumplin'. Yes, D -fucking fabulousumplin! I love so much about this book, and its author, Julie Murphy that I may start to ramble a bit on this, the day of "J" in #AuthorApril. But, my dear Kim, I know that you appreciate a good ramble, so here I go...

-Me devouring Dumplin circa September 2015, Cocoon Coffee House
I was intrigued last spring when the buzz for Dumplin' started and was full on hooked by the time I saw this...

Do you think I pre-ordered?

Oh, you know I did. That Julie Murphy-- I am going to give her all the credit here, marketing teams be damned-- she knew how to run a pre-order campaign. I wore my Dumplin' pin with pride. (Secretly a bit jealous of the curvy lady it portrayed who was brave enough to wear a hip hugging red dress. Something this girl would never have the guts to do.)

By the time the book came with its cover (same fox working that red gown), I had to know every detail about her. What I'd learn after my first read of Dumplin' was that this girl, this Willowdean Dickson, was everything I ever needed a female character to be. 
She was smart. 
So funny. 
She owned her body. 
All of it. 
She was a good friend (except when she wasn't). 
And she adored Dolly Parton and reality TV. 
Sound like anyone you know?

Okay maybe not the "owned her body" but I'm working on that, because of books like Dumplin'. I have a major #CharacterCrush. Just look at the lines that Murphy feeds Willowdean:

Image from HiddenStaircase.net

Artwork commissioned by Julie Murphy produced by Simini Blocker

Our author, being a true friend to her readers, delivers us Ellen and Willowdean. Best friends were never better written in young adult fiction than Julie Murphy writes here.

The girls are in the middle of finding out who they want to be and what part of their past they can keep intact. This is a juggling act that most, if not all, female friendships go through, especially nearing the end of high school. And Murphy writes it flawlessly. 

I love that we learn more about Willowdean's character through the fight she has with Ellen. A fight that is nearly all her own fault. We are left to watch the sheer stubbornness of this character erupt day after day. It makes Willowdean real. It makes the fight real. Murphy plunks her readers in Clover City, spectators of this fight. Front row seats. Have I mentioned how well Murphy does characterization? 

Before we get to watch said fight unfurl Murphy builds this best friendship like a sculptor at her clay. There is one scene between Ellen and Willowdean that I dream about as a writer of fiction. Such a quiet moment between the two girls and yet it demands that we stop to contemplate their friendship. 

      "We lay nose to nose in my bed with the lights off. 'How did it feel?' I ask. 'Not it, but like, how did it make you feel?'
      She closes her eyes for a second. 'I felt... in control. Like, of my life.' She opens her eyes. 'And loved. But I feel funny, too.'

     I nod. I nod with fervor because pared down to those terms, I understand.
     With the tips of her fingers, El touches my cheeks and, for the first time, I notice the sparse tears rolling down my face. She touches her forehead to mine and I don't know who falls asleep first."

Friendship. Real and honest friendship played out word by word, page by page.

Kim, there is so much I want to say about this book. I feel like I could write for days about the characterization alone, because, if you will notice, I only scratched the surface with one external relationship. (And one morsel of Willowdean's relationship with herself.) I'll leave it as I strongly recommend this book and this author. 

Julie Murphy will continue to turn out beautiful words and strong characters because that is what she is made to do. Stay tuned for her next release. 

Kim, I know how much you love a good TO DO LIST. If I may, your TO DO LIST for tonight:

1. Julie's book does so much RIGHT for body image in YA lit, please also follow Sarah Hollowell (@sarahhollowell). Click on her name and consider her message too.

2. Read the interview here on SmartGirls with Julie Murphy because of quotes like this:
"Growing up I was always the biggest person in the classroom. I’ve always been tall and I’ve always been a fat person. I was always very aware of space and how much space I took up. We’re all too ready to tell women in our society how much space they can take up and that men should take up more space. At the end of the day I just want women to be comfortable with their bodies and know that they’re not born and allotted a certain amount of square footage. Your body is your body and you’ve only got one of them. The other thing is that I made this conscious decision to really aggressively love my body and not crash diet and think I was failing if I had a negative thought about myself one day. I had to learn that every day you have to wake up and say, 'I’m going to be kind to myself today and that means I’m going to be kind to my body and my mind, and sometimes those two might be in conflict with each other.' Self-love is a roller coaster."
3. Look at these Dumplin' inspired dresses. SCBWI costume party, here I come.
For the love of O.

More character costume ideas at Gillian Berry's blog.

I'm obsessed with this.
She is my inner tigress.

You'll have to wait and see my Dumplin' interpretation at the party. You better believe I'll bring some DOLLY with me!

Much Love,