All About Vee by C. Leigh Purtill is one of those books that I came upon randomly in my search for books starring fat girls and women who don’t diet or date their way to happiness. If you’re new here or want to know more about my quest, check out this link.
Veronica May is the darling of the small-town community theater, starring in every lead female role and winning the best actor award three years in a row. She’s supported by her father and his fiancée and Veronica’s best friends, a group of girls known as the Vees. There’s Veronica, of course, and Virginia Cooper, Valeria Maria Carmellita Padilla y Lopez, and Vivian Reed. A club formed in elementary school based on girls whose names start with “V,” the Vees are akin to The Baby-sitters Club posse: like a small, female-empowering gang.
Vivian graduated high school six months early so should could move to Los Angeles and get into acting, which is the perfect set-up for Veronica to make the move herself. High off her successful run in Romeo and Juliet, Veronica’s world shatters when she hears the choice for the summer play is an all-male cast. Then, the privately-owned pharmacy at which she works is being sold to a large company so she’s been fired. Oh, and her father is finally marrying his long-time fiancée. Veronica feels forced out of her own life, but her mother, who died when Veronica was very small, also tried to make a go of Hollywood, and Veronica wants to follow in those footsteps. She calls up Vivian, packs her car, and doesn’t even say goodbye to her father, by whom she feels betrayed.
Once she’s arrived in L.A., Veronica’s body is picked apart and assessed: at 217 pounds, she’s too fat. She needs to stop eating, start yoga, join a movement class, an acting class, and send out head shots and resumes to casting calls she finds in magazines. Never mind Veronica memorizes entire plays; she needs fixing. Vivian, now known only by her last name, Reed, helps our actress along.
The first thing that stood out to me in All About Vee is how the main character sees herself as a presence, powerful and deserving of the adulation she receives from audiences because she’s worked hard to perform for them. Her body is not a hindrance:
She turned around and lifted the bottom of the towel, craning her neck to take a look at her butt. It, too, was shapely and altogether female. Two crescent moons separated by a curvaceous dimple. She placed her palms below her buttocks and shook them up and down. Nice wiggle.
She’s neither self-conscious nor shames her fat body. But C. Leigh Purtill gives readers this tantalizing character only to throw her into the vapid L.A. acting scene. I was worried! Veronica navigates each humiliating casting call, the ones where she would be the face of a diet pill or the fat fetish in what is actually a porno, with professionalism. Because she reflects the reality of fat women who take action, instead of fat women in fiction who constantly bemoan their poor, afflicted existences, I took a liking to All About Vee. Virginia and Valeria back home support her, too:
Everywhere you look, big fat guys get hot chicks in movies and on TV, but have you ever seen a fat girl get a normal guy? NO! [Veronica], you have to do your part to combat this. Don’t listen to that stupid model. Stay strong! Stay you. I’m counting on you! We’re all counting on you!
This is definitely American young adult literature, though. You sense how the ending will turn out happily and can see the betrayal from a friend coming a mile away. Veronica is petty about her future step-mother, who has been in Veronica’s life since Veronica was eight, but assuming her father and his future-wife will want privacy and running away feels so teen. Beyond exuding the “you’re not my real mother!” attitude, Veronica is just as clueless and as big of a dreamer as only an eighteen-year-old girl knows how. With hard work and perseverance, she can be a Hollywood star. She keeps saying she’s going to land a lead role any day, but Reed suggests Veronica keep trying out for commercials or extras in soap operas like Reed does. Basically, Veronica’s optimism gave me the oh-lordy-don’t-crush-this-naive-child vibes.
Purtill uses some of the tools I employ in my own writing, which of course I liked. Characters have a stand-out physical feature or personality tic that prevents you from forgetting who they are by using association. Veronica’s tendency to use French phrases, however, became a bit much, though one could argue this tic had comedic effect, given the book’s set first in Arizona fifty miles from the Mexican border and then in L.A. The result: a slightly amateurish feel to the novel, but I found it utterly worth reading for its positive story of fat women and the realistic nature of a teen trying to navigate the world armed with her dreams.