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?
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.