Review: Big Fat Manifesto

April 3, 2011

Vaught, S. (2007). Big fat manifesto. New York, NY: Bloomsbury USA Children.

Jamie is fat, or Fat Girl to be exact.  She’s the loud and proud senior who is hoping to breakdown societal and cultural stereotypes about beauty through her school’s newspaper.  She has her senior year laid out to be perfect.  She’s a lead in the school musical.  She’s going to win the National Feature Award and get a scholarship to a good school.  That is until her boyfriend decides to have bariatric surgery, forcing her to challenge her whole Fat Girl persona.  Vaught takes aim at how our culture views beauty, and especially bigger girls.  Jamie is smart and witty, and willing to challenge any and all “norms.”  However, it is when Jamie is Jamie and not Fat Girl that the novel works best.  Recommended for 9th grade and up.

Additional Thoughts:

This book, especially the first 3/4, has a very take-no-prisoners approach.  Fat Girl, a role that Jamie seems to be playing rather than actually living, is very confrontational and doesn’t hold back on how she feels.  This is especially useful in challenging society on how they view beauty.  While I have not gone through and fact-checked the book, many of the stats seem reasonably true.  There are valid points against vanity sizing and how big girls can’t find cute clothing.  She is also a healthy girl, who has acting, singing and writing chops, but can’t ever seem to land the lead in anything, including becoming editor of her school newspaper.  She is extremely sharp with her nails when taking on the Gastric Bypass surgery that her boyfriend has.  I did a quick WebMD search and many of her numbers are inflated, but many of the facts about the surgery are true.  This includes one of the most gruesome side-effects I can think of: dumping.  Basically, the surgery shrinks the stomach so those who have had it can’t overeat.  They can, however, overfill this tiny stomach, which causes them to dump out all the excess (through any available orifice).

What is somehwhat troubling about this book is Jamie as a character.  As I said above, she seems to be playing Fat Girl rather than actually living as Fat Girl.  So while she boldly takes up these causes, the real character often seems ashamed of her weight and not willing to believe she is/can be beautiful, an activist, the star.  For one thing, she doesn’t eat in front of people, which could be because of bullying.  If she was really comfortable with who she was, would she really have this hang up?  Vaught does deal with this two-sideness of Jamie vs. Fat Girl but it comes late in the book.  I would have liked to see more of the vulnerable Jamie, as opposed to the rabble-rousing character she plays for her peers.

Similar Titles (Read-A-Likes): Paper Towns by John Green, Burned by Ellen Hopkins, The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Artichoke’s Heart by Suzanne Supplee, The DUFF by Kody Kepplinger

Other Stuff: Random House Australia has a good discussion guide for this book that challenges students to think critically of the issues. It can be found here.

There is also a bit of a cover controversy with this book . . . or all books with non-white, skinny beauties.  Check out this Google Images search.  I actually like the yellow cover with the cheerleader best.  Although, Jamie specifically says she could never be a cheerleader.  That girl is obviously too skinny to be Jamie, but the design and idea actually fit the book better than that damn ice cream cone cover, which is still better than the boring original.

Full Disclosure:  I purchased this book used from Amazon for a class.  I will now be donating it to my library.

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