Fat Girl Dances With Rocks by Susan Stinson

*This book is part of my 2017 search to find positive representations of fat women in fiction or nonfiction, and that positive representation will not hinge on weight loss and falling in love. Thus, books will either meet or not meet my criteria, which will factor overall into my recommendations. I purposely use the word “fat” because it is not a bad word. Using plump, curvy, plus-sized, fluffy, big-boned, shapely, voluptuous, or any other term suggests that fat is bad and thus needs a euphemism.

You may remember that Susan Stinson stopped by Grab the Lapels recently for a Meet the Writer feature. Many of you asked if I would be reading Fat Girl Dances with Rocks soon. I imagine the title and the cover both draw readers in! In case you can’t see it online, the cover is beautiful and tasteful. The girl is both naked and yet covered (no nipples on her breasts or genitals). The artist, Jody Kim, used colored pencils to give the image a soft, warm, yet nuanced look by layering the colors.

fat girl

Fat Girl Dances with Rocks (Spinster Ink, 1994) is narrated in first person by Char, a 17-year-old girl who loves practicing dance moves and riding for hours in her Pinto with best friend Felice. Set in the 1970s, the book makes reference to specific disco songs from the decade. Though they’ve been friends for a good while, Felice has just now agreed to stay the night at Char’s for the first time, and what starts innocently enough with Char asking Felice to fix her hair somehow, maybe braid it, ends with a a kiss. Felice doesn’t want to talk about it.

Char claims she likes the idea of a boyfriend and being touched. She’s had boyfriends, too. Kissing Felice seems more intimate . . . perhaps not because Felice is a girl, but because they’ve been physically close through their friendship. Thus, Char’s sexuality develops naturally. I’ve watched movies and read fiction with characters who come out, and it’s always a huge surprise to the character. My friends in high school, lesbian, bi, and straight, all came to sex at different ages. While some were shy holding hands, others had physical relationships regularly. It all depends on the person’s comfort level. Char’s feelings reflect what I remember as true of teenagers forming relationships and realizing that they want physical closeness. It’s a tricky balance, and many bloggers lament the problematic “insta-love.” You won’t find that in Fat Girl Dances with Rocks.

Susan Stinson’s novel does a lot of work in the first several pages. We get the kiss, the tension between Felice and her mother, and Char’s problematic family. The father seems gruff, the brother a bit of a bully, and the mother asks Char every morning, “Did you lose weight?” Both mother and daughter are on diets, while father and brother eat seconds because they are average. Stinson sets up potential problems to be faced head on later in the novel.

After deciding she can’t live with her mom anymore, Felice leaves for the summer. One might guess she’s running away from her feelings for Char, which you may find predictable. Felice is a unique teen, though. She loves geology and identifies and collects rocks, which she mails to Char throughout the summer. Char, with nothing else to do, must get a job, so she lands at an assisted living community. Stinson showcases a variety of rabble-rousing, demanding people with different physical disabilities. A few characters are in wheelchairs, and one can’t fully use her hands.

Though I could easily tell the characters in the home apart (usually people with physical disabilities get clumped together in fiction, as if they are the same), their disabilities were slowly revealed. While I pictured Peg, the leader of a food riot in the cafeteria, one way, later on I would learn more about her the way her body was shaped and functioned differently, and I would have to rearrange her appearance in my head. But Peg helps Char grow up a bit by teaching Char how to treat people, how to think about people, just by interacting with her. Char must figure it all out.

And that’s what I loved about Stinson’s book. Nothing is handed to Char, nothing is obvious, or a given, when it comes to Char. Even her thoughts on her body are complex. Did you forget she is fat? It’s easy to, as it is not the obsession of her life. Sure, bodies are problematic at times, regardless of size, but they bring great joy, too. Since I’ve listed so many horrible things characters say about their fat bodies in previous reviews, below are some positives.

Even when Char is told to get her hair “under control,” she admits to readers, “I love my hair. It was one of my secret vanities. Sometimes at night I would spread it out on my pillow.” Hair is easy, though. Most people can have good hair. What about fat bodies? When she goes swimming with her mother for some good exercise (yes, fat people like to exercise), she watches her fat mother:

. . . once I saw her beauty, it seemed ordinary and familiar. Mom seemed to wake up in the water. She was so loose and white, buoyed up by her fat. She could rest at the surface and make little dips with her hands and feet.

fat women beach

Char also admires an old photo of her mother, “. . . young, on a horse, with those family breasts pushing out fringe on a fancy cowgirl shirt, and the family thighs spreading wide and strong against the shining brown saddle.” Now that, reader, is an important moment. Do you ever think of fat as an inheritance? Or are you more about the family curse of wobbly arms and big butts? Did you know that features of your body, even the fat ones, connect you undeniably to your blood kin, and that when you insult yourself, you insult them, too? I was so pleased to see Char admire her mother’s body.

Granted, Char’s mother weighs herself daily and asks Char if she’s lost weight. Something toxic is trying to be passed in those familial relationships, too. And it takes it’s toll. We all know our mothers doing a chicken dinner on their own bodies affects how we feel about ours. Are you a mother? Do you still pick at your body nonetheless? Char stands in the shower, holding her excess belly and thinking that it shouldn’t even exist. What an awful thought, but it reflects the reality of her environment.

Fortunately, Char’s not fully warped by diet culture. Home alone and missing Felice, she puts on a record and dances around naked. Pretty soon, she’s hiding the rocks Felice has mailed her in the folders of her skin (under her breasts, in her sides, under her belly). Is it really just dancing, or more of a way to get Felice closer to her body? The moment is both elegant and absurd, and that’s why I love it. She also pats her thighs as she lays in bed, thinking of them as good, faithful dogs.

Fat Girl Dances with Rocks is suitable for all ages, though it strikes me as a coming-of-age young adult novel. The characters are unique yet realistic, and avoid all the pitfalls — “insta-love,” love triangle, nerdy chic, popular kids vs. your obvious choice to side with — that usually make me avoid stories about teenagers.


  1. I like this. I have them stupid family breasts too(and a nose) so I’d probably completely relate to this book. It sounds lovely. Especially that she isn’t obsessed with her fatness. There’s more to it!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good that you found (another) one that you liked! And yes, I still remember back to all the awkwardness about approaching physical contact, and I like realistic coming of age fiction for that reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely! I think that the body is a vehicle that gets us around, and all of our bodies are limited in ways, but to know that our bodies don’t define our personalities is important. Stinson captures that.


  3. Lovely review. I like the idea of Char admiring her mother’s body in old photos. One of the things that improved my view of my own body was (this might sound strange) going to my grandma’s funeral and seeing an old photo of her, at about the same age I am now, looking exactly like me. She was also a nurse and in uniform in the photo, and the resemblance was really uncanny (though she was much shorter than I am). It was nice to see my body looking that way for a change–she looks really happy and strong.

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    • That’s so gorgeous, Lou. Thanks for sharing that. I’m always surprised at how different my family’s old photos look. No one really looks like themselves, though that could be that many of them lived hard adult lives, and those old photos are happier, filled with less worried faces.

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      • My family (on Dad’s side) all look extremely alike, but my grandma was ill for most of my life so she always looked old and shrunken. It was nice to see her as a young woman, knowing that when the photo was taken she had a demanding but very interesting life ahead of her, and that her body saw her through nearly 90 years!

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          • Oh, it’s still pretty intense. The way PhDs work in the UK is that we don’t have exams, it’s just all research & writing, and then it’s all done in one big pass or fail exam at the end of the course. Which is a stressful way to go about things! I am feeling better, though, so I am much less frazzled than I was. Thanks for asking 🙂

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  4. The other thing I like about that quote where she’s describing her mother’s body is that she calls her mother’s thighs “strong”. It reminds me of how I felt about my post-baby body – I was so amazed at what it had done that I felt proud of it, despite the extra softness and other unfamiliar things about it. I felt like my body was strong and capable.

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    • That’s gorgeous, Naomi. I took a couple of classes in college that included information about postpartum bodies, and I was amazed at the things I didn’t know, like breast feeding is such a high calorie burner, that if a mom is eating right, she will lose a lot of weight fast, and that there is a chemical released while breastfeeding that actually encourages the uterus to reshape. I’m writing as someone whose never had a baby, but I think the postpartum body is so strong, yet vulnerable, and it’s just amazing.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I appreciate your response to the book very much, Melanie, and am enjoying everyone’s perspectives here. I love the cover of the book, too. The publisher commissioned the painting, then asked for the image to be made just a bit more fat to be consistent with Char as described in the book. Many folks have told me they loved it. When I was on the road giving readings when it was first published, I also had SO many conversations about whether or not the nude figure has nipples. I contend that it’s a yes, but they are very delicately suggested.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this! I know the book is older, but somehow this feels like a “fresh” perspective on body image. Great review. I’m going to have to check this one out. 🙂

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  7. Victory! This sounds like a beautiful and wonderful story. Plus, they have it at my library! This is a huge win. I love that Char’s body image is important but not the 100% focus of the story. Your review also implies that Char doesn’t get a resolution to everything in this book– that’s lovely. Far too often things are tied up neatly with a bow. Or, there is zero resolution at all. I can’t wait to read this. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s so exciting that this book is at your library! I think it’s published by a smaller press, AND is a bit older, which means that unless it’s a huge seller, it doesn’t typically get to stay in the library long (which is a shame).

      Liked by 1 person

        • If a book sits on the shelf too long, the library usually puts it up for sale to make room for other books. Therefore, checking out a little-known book keeps it “alive,” so to speak. I always thought buying a book would help an author the most, and it does help, but the library is an important element too, so I half buy and half check out of the library.

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          • The truth is, whenever someone is reading one of my books, you are completing a circuit that makes them alive in your imagination. I love owning books so that I can take my time reading them, lend them, have a conversation with the author in the margin, refer to them later, teach from them, just because I love them. If buying my books online gets them to you because that’s what you prefer for any reason, that’s great. At this point, I get royalties from Spider in a Tree, and am very happy whenever anyone buys it. For the other books, since they are out of print, I’m not getting royalties from a purchase (an author never does from any book, of course, if you buy it used). Checking it out from the library literally keeps it in circulation.

            Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh brilliant, this sounds like an excellent read, and hooray for being positive about the character’s geology interest, too, instead of just labelling it nerdy. I’m definitely going to look out for this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hooray for finding a positive representation of fatness! This book sounds like a great coming of age story. Sometimes I like those. Your review reminded me of Juliet Takes a Breath – just that the story has that same kind of loose, joyful feel to it, along with emerging awareness of sexuality.

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