Fat Girl on a Plane by Kelly deVos (June 5)
Overview: Cookie Vonne loves fashion. She wants a spot at Parsons School of Design and a clothing line to make plus sized girls, like her, feel included in fashion. Told both during her senior year of high school and her freshman year of college, we watch Cookie come into her own and confront the realities of adulthood simultaneously. We also get to see Cookie's life before and after the dramatic weight loss that made her identical to her super model mother. Throughout the novel, deVos proves that sometimes what we think will fix our lives is just one step on a journey. Overall: 4
Characters: 4 I love Cookie and her grandmother, who has cared for Cookie since she was little. They both come off as genuinely good people even when stuck in situations that aren't ideal. The family dynamics came to life for me as deVos juggled Cookie's absent, missionary-doctor father, thoughtless mega-star mother, and ruthless ex-football player stepfather.
I thought that the other female characters also presented interesting challenges for Cookie. With ultra thin, rich Kennes, Cookie is forced to confront her own feelings on self image in order to manage Kennes better, and her best friend Piper adds a fun voice of support that Cookie desperately needs throughout the book.
It's the male characters that I take issue with. Both her childhood best friend and major designer, Gareth Miller, seem to be cast in grey zones for the story. Honestly, it seemed like the author just couldn't make up her mind about how she felt about them, and they just came off as confused.
Plot: 4 Most of the story made me a major fan. I think that the balanced message she gives about weight is really good. Cookie has an ever evolving relationship with food that I think is important to show. After a traumatizing experience trying to board a plane, Cookie decides she's going to lose weight. Over the course of the book we see her use food to cope, see food as the enemy, begin to strike balance, and then, ultimately, find an acceptance where thinking about food is not a major part of her life. It's a struggle I think that almost everyone can relate to.
My issue with the plot came with Cookie's relationship to Tommy and Gareth Miller. With Tommy, I didn't really understand why he needed to be a character in the story. He didn't add anything proprietary. With Gareth, older Cookie begins working with him and starts a relationship, but deVos never makes clear how mutual or consensual it is. When I thought about it, the reader doesn't know because Cookie herself doesn't know. The story would have been stronger with more direction to this major point.
Writing: 4 I like the story that deVos set out to tell, and I think that this book is worth reading simply for the main story about Cookie's journey, fashion, and body image. It's a story I haven't seen anywhere before, and, though it could have been stronger with some refinement of subplots, the message is very clear.
End Note: deVos also opens the conversation about inclusivity in fashion. It's one that is often left without solution and forgotten, but every woman knows how true the concern is. I've been lighter and heavier, and, while I've never been medically considered overweight, there were times when going shopping was a traumatizing experience that left me feeling terrible about myself. I refused to go shopping for about a year after, and, after losing twenty pounds making new clothes necessary, I was drug to the store kicking and screaming. But just that twenty pounds made a whole world of difference in how these clothes fit my body and made me feel. Though I was relieved to find clothes that made me feel comfortable with myself after years of searching, I was mostly struck by how exclusive the fashion world is to thin people and how much power that can hold over someone's self image.
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