With its recent debut on Netflix, Julie Murphy's 2015 novel Dumplin’ made a delightful transition from boundary-shattering YA book to small-screen sensation. It's hard to take in Willowdean's triumphant, transcendant arc and feel anything but encouraged that fat-positive books for young and old readers might finally claim their rightful place in the world.
Dumplin' film image via Netflix.
But make no mistake: There's still a long, long way to go. Fat-positive children's books are still few and far between, and there's far too much body shaming in too many books for all ages (not to mention the world at large).
So we asked our book experts here at NYPL for their favorite fat-positive reads, and they came up with more than a dozen works of fiction, nonfiction, a yoga guide, and even a graphic novel. Check them out and, as Willowdean says, go big or go home.
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli is one of my favorite books ever! It is honest, kind and, most importantly, Molly loves herself exactly for who she is. This book is a great depiction of self-love regardless of your size. Hugs all around for this book! —Elisa Garcia, Bronx Library Center
Chris Crutcher’s oldie but goodie, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, is one of my all-time favorite books. (I even own a signed copy!) It’s about a formerly fat kid who refuses to abandon his still-fat best friend, and has the line, “I make it a point never to go to a party unless Sarah Byrnes is also invited. That’s how I stay fat for her now.” As a person with a disability, I still dream of having a friend that steadfast. —Ronni Krasnow, Morningside Heights
Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burgers in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding. What I love about this book is how normal all the teen characters are. They are confident and insecure, funny and maddening. It’s just a great depiction of a true group of friends. —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street
The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler is a Printz-award winning YA novel that lives up to its engaging and quirky title. This honest and at times humorous book is narrated from the perspective of Virginia, a 15-year old young woman struggling to claim her plus-size identity in a powerful New York family that values thinness, and ultimately liberates herself and her body from the family pressures she’s internalized. —Emily Wejchert, Mid-Manhattan
Puddin’ by Julie Murphy is a book for everyone who fell in love with the always optimistic Millie Michaelchuk in Dumplin’. Her sweetness and optimism will continue to inspire readers not only to love themselves but to spread kindness and happiness to world around them - just like Millie. It’s not an exact sequel to Dumplin’, but it’s close enough! —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street
Adult Fiction & Graphic Novels
The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory knew just what I wanted in a romance: a white-hot meet-cute in an elevator as two people fall for each other over food and suggestive, witty conversations. Who says a curvy girl can’t find herself a six-packed knight in shining armor who loves to watch her eat? Certainly not me! —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street
Vow of Celibacy by Erin Judge is both entertaining and smart, and it brings the rom-com into the 21st century. The main character is a producer who finds herself walking the runway in a plus-sized fashion show. She thought she was confident in her identity, but she realizes that she still has a lot to learn about relationships, friendship, and confidence. —Emily Pullen, The New York Public Library Shop
Dietland by Sarai Walker is often called a satire and it is funny, but its also a black-hearted gumshoe story mixed in with drool-inducing competency heist all of which is washed up on Circe’s island. Is it surreal? Or does it just be like that sometimes. —Grace Yamada, Mulberry Street
Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah Maclean is an all-time favorite Regency romance with a curvy young woman on the brink of spinsterhood, determined to break every one of society’s rules of what a lady should and shouldn’t do. To do all that she’ll need a willing partner, enter Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston—charming and devastatingly handsome, his wicked reputation matched only by his sinful smile. It’s not often you have curvier girls as heroines in Regency romances and that along with the delicious love scenes make this book a romance you won’t soon forget! —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street
Jody Houser’s Faith series is an incredibly self-aware superhero comic. Faith Hebert does not let her body define her. In fact, her size is never explicitly mentioned. It is just a part of who she is and Faith happens to be a journalist who also has incredible power that is used for the greater good. —Susan Shi, Mid-Manhattan
Essays, Memoir, & Nonfiction
It’s a tie between the indomitable, brilliant Jes Baker’s Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook of Unapologetic Living, which is really an updated, sassier version of Susan Bordo’s classic, scholarly Unbearable Weight : Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Both are worthy of attention. —Anne Barreca, Battery Park City
“The real problem is that women are angry, and we are trained to turn that anger inward and experience it as shame. And yet we are told—and we believe—that the problem is our body.” Virgie Tovar will light your brain on fire with her amazing manifesto, You Have the Right to Remain Fat. She brings down preconceived notions with a resounding crash, and she wraps in lessons about the gaslighting, bootstrapping, racism, and sexism that go hand-in-hand with our fat-shaming diet culture. It’s a game-changer. —Gwen Glazer, Readers Services
Luckily for us, adult literature can be very complex, so I’m allowed to include Samantha Irby — We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, Meaty, and New Year, Same Trash. She also writes a blog called B*tches Gotta Eat. A modern-day literary lovechild of David Sedaris and Virginia Woolf (in the sense of her hilariously bare honesty and stream-of-consciousness flow), her collections of autobiographical essays muse on topics that include being fat, dating while fat, dealing with gastrointestinal problems, and her acceptance and pride in herself despite/because of these aspects. Only Samantha Irby can make you laugh until you cry about a subject like IBS. —Erin Horanzy, Francis Martin
Shrill by Lindy West is fantastic. She is such a proud, powerful, non-nonsense advocate for body positivity that she literally prompts a troll to break down and apologize for shaming her on the internet. —Abby Horowitz, Creative Services
I love Every Body Yoga: Let Go Of Fear, Get On the Mat, Love Your Body, by Jessamyn Stanley. A great, body-positive guide to yoga for beginners and experts alike. And sprinkled through with enough stories about Jessamyn’s life, and what yoga has meant to her and her body image, that you can enjoy it thoroughly even if you have no interest in trying yoga at all! —Stephanie Anderson, BookOps
Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.
Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!