All About Vee: Fat Girls in L.A. by C. Leigh Purtill

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.

14 comments

  1. The old white men who own the movie business have their own ideas about ‘beauty’ and the money to force those ideas on the rest of us. I don’t think the Vees of this world will change the industry from the bottom up, and I’m not sure the author does kids any favours by suggesting otherwise. A better way forward may be taken from the campaign to shame designers who use models who are dangerously underweight.

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    • I don’t think the author is going to change anything, either, though I do see more fat women in movies today. They’re often given goofy roles, but I’m seeing more serious portrayals. It’s a slow growth, but it’s there. I didn’t mind the suggestion that Vee could change the industry because she was mostly just sticking to her ideas about what it means to use someone, and what it means for a fat woman to “sell out.” At the end, she doesn’t get into the movie business, but sticks with theatre.

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  2. Hey! This sounds like a winner. I’m so excited! I feel like it’s been moons since you’ve had a fat-positive book you’d recommend to your readership. Will you continue to read the series?

    I wonder if this book is YA or NA, connecting back to a conversation we had a few weeks ago. If the characters are heading off to life post-high-school, that seems to be prime NA material. Does the book contain anything sexually explicit? I’ve been trying to learn more about New Adult… Baby steps!

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    • I would count this as young adult; the young women are still finding themselves like your typical coming-of-age novel. It’s the sort of book a girl might read while still in high school to see what the bigger/more grown-up girls do. There are so few books I’ve been able to recommend, so every winner feels like a reason to celebrate. The book says it’s part of a series, but this is the only one published. That happens with small-press and self-published books, unfortunately. In fact, this is the 3rd self-published fat-positive book I’ve recommended that’s in a series for which the rest of the books were not written.

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      • Hey, there are PLENTY of series books published by traditional publishing houses where people recommend the entire series and only book 1 is published. 😉 I think you’re okay. The real question is whether the rest of the series will be published or not.

        I can pick up on your reasoning behind assinging this a Young Adult reading level. I do worry that with New Adult being called out separately that we’ll see a decline in novels helping high school students understand what is beyond high school. Contemporary novels do a lot to help youth understand the world and prepare for the future. I don’t want to see that lost!

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  3. I love how confidant Veronica sounds, loving her body for what it is-the end! Why does there always have to be a but, or a, caveat of some sort? She’s fat, but she’s so many other things, which is why I like the sounds of this. The whole running away b/c your dad got married part? Now that sounds childish…

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    • The running away part was a bit of a lazy catalyst to get Veronica to L.A. I mean, she’s know this woman almost her entire life, and the woman who becomes her step-mom doesn’t even move in before the get married. Perhaps that’s the part that threw Vee off: her house itself would change. But at 18, she’s going to get on with her life, so why not wish for her father to be happy? Though it was childish, later in the book the author explores regret and missed opportunities.

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  4. Yay, a positive one! Too bad it was a bit obvious/amateurish, but handling a subject well can make up for a lot. Great review!

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  5. I’m glad this turned out to be a good one! I’m curious, though—you mentioned that her body was picked apart and that she endured some humiliating casting calls. How did she react to all those imperatives that she needs fixing? I can only imagine that the pressure is a hundred times worse in Hollywood.

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    • The book opens with the closing scene of a play in which Veronica was the lead. She’s so confident and knows the audience loves her, and we learn she’s 217 pounds. Rarely do I read a character so confident in her body! So, later, when she’s told things like she’s too fat to be the “before” picture of a diet commercial, she feels a bit embarrassed, but also does not think it’s her. She just keeps trying, and it’s that determination I enjoyed!

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