Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

e.E. Charlton-Trujillo is a Mexican-American woman who claims she “personally tipped a little closer to the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple exactly in that order rainbow (otherwise known as a card carrying gal of the not completely straight). . .” in an article about Pride Week. Her YA novel Fat Angie won the Stonewall Book Award and was a Lambda Literary Finalist. While the book’s credentials look stellar to me, many reviews on Goodreads had negative things to say about Fat Angie. So, how was it?

Fat Angie

The novel beings with a character named Fat Angie being bullied in gym class. At first, the writing is disjointed. The author uses sentence fragments at times, which made me wonder if the novel had not been edited. Later, I realized the broken sentences mirrored Angie’s internal state. As her feelings change, so do the sentences. Fat Angie is not only fat, but she tried to commit suicide at school, cutting her wrists and then running through a pep rally screaming “we’re all killers!” There’s a lot of potential for her feelings to change.

Her break down comes after her sister disappeared. Fat Angie’s sister had a full-ride basketball scholarship to college but chose to join the Air Force to fight terrorism instead. When she is captured, the sister is filmed being tortured, and the video is uploaded to YouTube. Fat Angie and her family don’t know if the young woman is alive or dead. Fat Angie convinces herself her sister is alive. Her divorced parents and adopted brother say dead, get over it, move on.

After Fat Angie is bullied (again), she sees a new girl walk in, gorgeous and with an a alternative style, named KC Romance. This reader made all sorts of assumptions after KC sits with Fat Angie at lunch and a popular boy named Jake joins them. He’s always lived across the cul-de-sac from Fat Angie, but they aren’t friends. Who is this KC, what does she want, what does Jake want, and how will Fat Angie be hurt as a result?

The characters didn’t behave as expected, so readers skip out on cliches. So thankful! You get Stacy Ann (the bully), KC (the new hot girl), Jake (the popular boy), and Fat Angie (the loser/freak), but none of them are only that. On her first day of school, KC explains to Fat Angie why she doesn’t want to be friends with Stacy Ann, who is more KC’s speed:

“Besides, there’s been a Stacy Anne at every school I’ve been to. Too into chick lit and cruising the mall, maxing out Mommy’s credit cards on name-brand purses and overpriced clothing made in sweat factories. What about you?”

“I hate sweat factories.”

KC smiled. “I mean what do you do? For fun? When you’re not reforming developing countries’ labor laws?”

There’s a playful, awkward exchange here that readers will see several more times. KC is witty; Fat Angie is awkward but still a person worth investigating. Fat Angie is different. Once Jake joins KC and Fat Angie at lunch, I guessed ulterior motives for his seat choice. But as the story develops, the characters reveal more about themselves, and not just simple, easy changes.

Fat Angie’s mom is a piece of work to overcome, though. She tells Fat Angie no one will love her if she’s fat and refuses to buy her daughter new clothes because she’s gained weight. Fat Angie walks around school, barely able to breathe, because her clothes don’t fit. It’s hard to read Fat Angie’s mom’s dialogue, and I’m honestly not sure if she’s over-the-top or realistic. Her acid tongue never implies, it just says.

Charlton-Trujillo does say something about fat in her novel. She doesn’t tell us Fat Angie has a pretty face or some other “compliment.” Instead, KC’s kindness draws out the beauty in Fat Angie, a beauty that is more like art or nature that socially acceptable bodies. For example, Fat Angie asks KC how many schools she’s been to, but KC says she’s not sure exactly:

Fat Angie smiled. She had no idea what propelled this reaction. It was a soft smile. An unpracticed one. It was . . . real?

I think a lot of authors forget that emotion can be beautiful, and Charlton-Trujillo skips trying to argue that Fat Angie has a beautiful body because that would reinforce that her body is the most important part of her. Readers won’t forget the character’s body — she’s called Fat Angie throughout, even by the narrator.

Fat Angie does lose weight in her story, but not by choice. She practices all evening to make the varsity basketball team like her maybe dead/maybe alive sister did, and the result of the extra physical activity is some weight lost. She is still fat, and I appreciated that the author did not have weight loss be a goal and kept Fat Angie fat and physically active.

Although a number of readers on Goodreads have complained about the style of narration, I loved how it was unique. I wasn’t reading Any Random YA Novel. Fat Angie shows off her moves on the basketball court. Charlton-Trujillo uses deadpan to add some humor to varsity basketball tryouts:

Stopping hard, jumping straight up, from fiercely flawless, she sunk a beautiful jump shot.

She cheered, doing a dance best suited for the privacy of one’s bedroom.

Fat Angie was not in her bedroom.

The author also uses repeated sentence structures, pulling from a Dick and Jane style, to create a rhythm to the narration:

Jake pulled in to his driveway. Ryan [Jake’s dog] blazed through the open back gate.

Ryan was a good dog.

Jake was a good boy.

This writing style doesn’t happen all the time, keeping the style from being too “cute” or jarring. I do love when I’m reading an author’s work and I can tell from the style. Fat Angie is a highly recommended read, and not only for YA fans.

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38 comments

  1. Sounds like it explores so many aspects of adolescence and body image, esp. love how you point out how her beauty shows through emotion. As a mom of a teen girl I’m so glad there are books out there that offer women a more complex picture of self and self worth.

  2. I like the fact that Trujillo gives these characters several dimensions. It’s nice that they’re not one-sided, and that the plot is, therefore, not predictable. I think that’s a lot closer to the way real life is. And I agree with you: it’s empowering that Angie doesn’t change her identity just because she plays some basketball. Her weight seems to be handled effectively in this one.

    • Even though the high school kids and the narrator call her “Fat Angie,” the novel isn’t even really about her weight, which I found interesting. It’s so there, so present, but it’s not the story.

  3. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I was going to say it sounds like fun, but having your sister’s capture and torture on You Tube is hardly that. The games the author plays with words (and Ryan and Jake sounds exactly like the reader I had in grade one in 1957) might require a level of literacy above the general YA readership.

    • I’m not sure about the level of readership other than to note that the sentence fragments I mentioned may put off some readers. I’m not sure how well young adults read or know their punctuation. Based on teaching college freshman, it’s fairly low, but that also depends on the school district in which a student attended.

  4. This sounds like an interesting exploration of these young characters without being cliched, which is always worth taking a look at, especially if this is aimed more at an adult audience, rather than a YA one.

    • Typically, books about high school students are aimed at a young adult audience, but when I was reading this book, the thought, complexity, and sentence styles didn’t read like young adult to me. The YA I have read tends to be in first-person point of view and use more dialogue and simple sentences. That wasn’t the case here.

  5. I wonder if people still do get called “Fat …..”. It reminded me of a girl I knew when I was a teenager who was always known to everyone as “Fat Anne from Faifley” simply as a way of differentiating her from all the other Annes we knew. I genuinely don’t think any of us meant it to be insulting, but I’m now wondering how she felt about it… she never openly objected, but… Mind you, nearly everybody was known as Big Al or Wee Rab or whatever. Maybe our parents should have been more imaginative about naming us… 😉

  6. Yay! So from what I’m gathering from this review, you consider this positive fat rep?! It sounds like a unique YA book with a fat MC. I’m so happy that we are seeing a shift in the YA genre to include more fat rep. I’ve been noticing more and more books with fat characters on the front cover… at least in the YA genre. Books like Dumplin’, Puddin’, Leah on the Offbeat, etc. etc.

  7. This sounds really interesting – especially the way the high school cliché characters are both used and subverted. I always think that’s a really clever bit of writing – when someone can explore and unpick a stereotype.

    • “use and subvert”–that’s spot-on language that I hadn’t thought of. I hope you read this book. I think you would like it, and it doesn’t suck away brain power from a PhD.

  8. I echo Laila’s excitement over someone who can be labelled fat and physically active-both can exist harmoniously! This sounds like a good read, although I’m not sure how I feel about some of those sentence structures you quoted, like the ‘dick and jane’ style, I find that annoying, even in small doses.

  9. There are certain books that I can count on being rated low by Goodreads users based on their preference for certain styles of writing and not on whether the book was any good. This sounds like one of them. I wouldn’t mind this kind of format and the narration sounds fun and witty.

    • I think you would like it, and as one of my friends who reads a lot of YA, I’d love to read your opinion! I think it’s possible that done YA readers didn’t catch the mirroring of sentences to emotions. It might have been just a bit too complex.

  10. I couldn’t be happier to see you review a fat-representation novel which isn’t super offensive to you (and everyone else who reads it)! I feel like your quest for fat-positive writing has been more losses than wins lately. But the wins are significant!

    Hm. I wonder why this is poorly received on Goodreads? I recently DNF’d Shatter Me for the writing style, but that’s not something I do often. Perhaps people cannot connect to the writing? Does Fat Angie’s narrative improve as her mental health does throughout the book?

    Also, is she Fat Angie the same way in Pitch Perfect Fat Amy is Fat Amy? She calls herself fat so she can own it and no one can take it from her by turning it into an insult? Because that always made me super happy. Sorta like I adopted Wacky Jackie at an early age, not because it’s a fun nickname, but because I know I’m gregarious and a bit insane. I’ll just own that. It’s who I am. It’s not an insult.

    • Oh, Wacky Jackie! In a little sad about that! Fat Angie does not label herself. It’s become her identity. It’s only after most of the novel that KC makes Fat Angie feel like just Angie. Her Fat Angie is pervasive, so much who she is labeled and basically becomes because she doesn’t have it in her to claim her own identity.

      • Eh. There might have been a time in my life where I was a bit sad about it too, but kids are little a-holes and this is just a life lesson. I’m glad I saw it coming and took the bull by the horns. That’s right, you can’t make fun of me. I’m proud of who I am! 😉

        …Oh wow. Poor Fat Angie. Now I’m sad about *that*. Everyone needs to claim their own identity.

  11. Great review and sounds like you enjoyed this overall. I don’t read much YA, sometimes historical fiction, but rarely. I appreciate what you said the author did NOT do with Fat Angie becoming obsessed with weight loss. Self image can be hard especially at that age and if you’re being bullied. Did the book ever say what happened with her sister?

    • We do learn what happens to the sister, and you see it coming. That’s not designed to be a plot twist. I’m with you; I don’t thought read YA, but this reads differently. It’s still YA, but it’s different. Thanks so much for your comment!

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