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.