Fat Angie

Charlton-Trujillo, e.E. (2013). Fat Angie. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

This book was difficult for me to enjoy, as perhaps the title should have led me to expect. Although the writing is engaging and the plot is interesting, the main character is treated like an un-person by most of the other characters and even herself. The names that we and others call us are arguably a pretty important part of our identity and feelings of self-worth, and the fact that the protagonist is relentlessly called “Fat Angie” is hard for me to accept.

The plot is fairly simple: unpopular girl struggles socially in high school, meets a beautiful and charismatic new student, and falls in love. Descriptions of the object of Angie’s affection are really great; Charlton-Trujillo certainly has a handle on teenage emotions, and writes compellingly about feelings, decision-making, first kisses, and the awkward high school social milieu. The challenging and frankly unpleasant part for me was that while Angie is falling for this other girl and telling her how beautiful she is, nobody- even her sweetheart- tells her that she is beautiful or even just acceptable as she is.

I wish that this book had ended on a more positive note, with Angie realizing that others’ perceptions of her body shape are inconsequential, or that fat shame is a real thing but not something she has to buy into, or even that she’s sad about being bullied but ultimately happy with herself and her relationship, but instead there’s a definite message of Not Enough. Throughout the book, Angie struggles with her weight and the awful messages she gets from her family and peers, and by the end she has started a dubious exercise regime that is supposedly part of a happy ending but kind of sounds like exercise bulimia to me.

I could definitely be overly sensitive to these kinds of messages, and I’m sure plenty of folks could read this book and feel warmed and happy by the hopeful ending. Hey, it is pretty great that Angie works through some emotional trauma stuff, realizes that she might be gay, and has a girlfriend that she really likes! It’s also worth noting that this book won a Stonewall Book Award and also landed on the Rainbow List for 2014, so two pretty robust committees thinks it’s an important book. I just think a note of caution is in order—not a trigger warning, but more of a content note.

About Charlie McNabb

Archivist, Folklorist, and Legend Tripper
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One Response to Fat Angie

  1. catchingwine says:

    I haven’t read this book so I can only comment on size tropes and sensitivity.

    When a character is described as fat and I am supposed to read that as a description of a problem for the character to solve, I read that as lazy trope reliance, similar to giving a character emotional depth by giving them a history of being abused. It’s stuff that really happens, but a lot of creatives lean on these fraught subjects because it’s easy to give no other information and let that stand on its own. Fat. Abused. The approach imagines: what more needs to be said? It’s not like being fat (or abused) is a complex narrative, right? Clear winners and losers? Argh.

    So I wonder, within this book, if Angie was given room for her size to be a complex issue, or just a problem to be solved.

    It’s also tricky because YA books are an early piece of life, and at the end of the book, the main characters are generally still teenagers. Which is, you know, like ending a book at the middle of a pimple. If a solution to a problem is presented, it’s important for solutions to be reasonably accessible (move out and win a billion dollars isn’t that satisfying) or for there to be a reasonable pathway to a solution that may be clear or only hinted at. So, I wonder if there were other hinted-at solutions, or if the solution is just: fall in love. Exercise. Maybe one day you’ll stop being fat.

    As far as being overly sensitive…I am willing to give weight to that phrase as meaning ‘overly protective’, which is how it gets used, when ‘overly insensitive’ carries equal social weight :p I feel like there’s significant need for being extra-sensitive with things that I haven’t figured my way out around yet, where I know what I’m seeing is somewhere between zero and infinity and another axial direction that makes square roots confusing and cube roots meaningful. That’s when I have to be as sensitive as possible because I’m aware there’s something going on that I don’t really have my head around, and I’m aware of risks that suggest I need help figuring out what to do with it.

    Based on that framework, basic sensitivity means I grab hold of something unknown, ask what it is, and make risk-aware judgement calls from responses to decide what to do with that thing – including doing nothing, or putting it down carefully and letting others handle it with knowledge I don’t have yet. Overly sensitive means I grab hold of something unknown, declare it dangerous because I don’t know how to wield it safely regardless of what anyone says, and demand that no one use it at all. Overly insensitive is grabbing hold of something unknown and swinging it around to see what happens, and then being shocked when it’s a blade in a crowd.

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