In times of trouble, I frequently turn to the Giant Lion Turtle, and ask him to grant me a multitude of wishes. The Giant Lion Turtle usually ignores my desires. I think he might find some of my wishes too inconsequential—Dear Giant Lion Turtle, please let rainbow sprinkles be officially declared a food group. He might find some of my wishes too self-serving—Dear Giant Lion Turtle, please make The Reiki Master decide to join a 12-year expedition to the Artic Circle. He might find some of my wishes too outrageous—Dear Giant Lion Turtle, please make July 62 days instead of 31 because the first day of school feels so close even though it’s still so far away. But every so often, The Great Lion Turtle complies with a great roar and a majestic shake of his mane. My most recent plea—Dear Giant Lion Turtle, please let me read a good book. Enter Julie Murphy’s Puddin’.
Puddin’ is the follow-up to Murphy’s excellent Dumplin’. By the way, Dumplin’ is coming to a theater near you and stars Brad Pitt’s ex-wife. Not that ex-wife, the other ex-wife. Puddin’ isn’t a direct sequel to Dumplin’, but it does take place in the same small town, so the reader gets to check in on Dumplin’s protagonist, Willowdean. There are more familiar faces, and here some of those background players are elevated and explored with greater depth.
Instead of following Willowdean, Puddin’ follows Millie Michalchuk, a self-proclaimed fat girl, and Callie Reyes, a self-identified mean girl on their divergent, yet overlapping journeys. Their two worlds collide when Callie lets her emotions get the best of her, which means the ever bubbly Millie must make the best of the unfortunate circumstance that brings together bully and bullied. Both girls deepen and strengthen thanks to the ebb and flow of their fragile and complicated not quite friendship, but it could be.
I’ll forego exploring the plot because it’s pure character development, and I don’t want to reveal too much to my book club compatriots. I’ll say that Millie is a budding news anchor looking to strengthen her friendships, standup to her mother, and find love with the smart shy boy in her AP Psych class. Callie thinks she has her whole life figured out, but her view of life is so limited that when one thing changes she’s adrift, which isn’t always the best look for a control freak.
My response to both characters was positive. I always understood them. I always rooted for them even when it seemed they were in corner—Callie with fists balled and Millie curled into a ball. I also spent part of the book going, “Come on ladies! Get it together!” What matters most is how real they felt. As I was reading, I saw the faces of students I’ve taught and friends I know. It’s the authenticity of Murphy’s characters that make her an author worth reading and following.
Despite my bit of gushing I did have a few trifles with the book. For instance, we are all of us shades of gray, which is marvelous, but not every action deserves forgiveness. Realize your own wrong, but in doing so don’t absolve everybody of everything. We don’t always need to kumbaya. I’ve decided to call this new YA phenomena the Martin Addison Rule.
On a deeper note, Puddin’ reminds me that there was a time when we thought tolerance was enough. The idea of tolerance never sat right with me. It isn’t much to tolerate something. It just means you are willing to endure it. It means you are willing to allow it. It means you view what you are tolerating as abnormal or a deviation, which still means we are othering—those people versus we, the people. We’ve entered the age of acceptance despite how small-minded those in power and their devoted followers may make the world seem. This acceptance of one another is something I also see in the students I teach, but also in my own children—I really do think they just might save the world. One day we will leave behind acceptance and enter the age of the embrace because it will be then that we arrive on the right side of history, and we will.