Review: Pumpkin by Julie Murphy

Review: Pumpkin by Julie Murphy

‘Waylon Russell Brewer is a fat, openly gay boy stuck in the small West Texas town of Clover City. His plan is to bide his time until he can graduate, move to Austin with his twin sister, Clementine, and finally go Full Waylon so that he can live his Julie-the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-music-Andrews truth.

So when Clementine deviates from their master plan right after Waylon gets dumped, he throws caution to the wind and creates an audition tape for his favorite TV drag show, Fiercest of Them All. What he doesn’t count on is the tape getting accidentally shared with the entire school… As a result, Waylon is nominated for prom queen as a joke. Clem’s girlfriend, Hannah Perez, also receives a joke nomination for prom king.

Waylon and Hannah decide there’s only one thing to do: run-and leave high school with a bang. A very glittery bang. Along the way, Waylon discovers that there is a lot more to running for prom court than campaign posters and plastic crowns, especially when he has to spend so much time with the very cute and infuriating prom king nominee Tucker Watson.

Waylon will need to learn that the best plan for tomorrow is living for today… especially with the help of some fellow queens.’

Pumpkin is set is the same universe as Dumplin’ and Puddin’ and follows Waylon, who is a big fan of drag and drag reality TV shows, and is looking forward to the near future in which he feels he can fully embrace who he is, once he and Clementine, his twin sister, leave town for university. But when Clem decides that going to the university that they’ve agreed on isn’t necessarily she wants, his plans and his feelings about the future are thrown into disarray.

The book has a lovely cast of supportive characters, particularly Waylon and Clementine’s parents and their grandmother, and though his uncertainties sometimes lead him to think that that he is being left behind and it sometimes takes others pointing out the positives of the relationships in his life to realise what he has, Waylon quite clearly loves his family and values them, just as they love him. It’s his grandmother who has given him the nickname that he chooses to transform into his drag name, and is a delightfully funny and warm-hearted character. It’s wonderful to see families like Waylon’s in YA literature and the scenes that involved his family were among my favourites of the story. However, while his family may support Waylon in his choices and encourage him to make decisions that are best for him, this is not to say that the novel shies away from exploring the impact of discrimination and the fact that there are those who do not have a supportive family and friends like his. This is handled sensitively, with the discrimination that some of the characters suffer painted plainly for what it is: unacceptable and not to be tolerated.

Waylon’s relationship with his twin sister is a close and supportive one, though it has some of the signs of him being a little too dependent on it at times, and he is heartbroken when he discovers that she has been considering options other than going to the same university as him. He acknowledges that their relationship is co-dependent and doesn’t seem entirely sure what to do about it, and while he says he considers Clem in the decisions that he makes, he is incredibly hurt that she hasn’t shared her feelings about university with him or told him that she has been planning to potentially set aside their plans and follow a path that doesn’t involve him in her life as much as he is now. It takes him some time to come to terms with her decision and why it unsettles him so much, but it’s good to see them eventually start to talk about it properly and see Waylon start to try and figure out what he wants for himself – and whether going to university is actually what he wants, rather than what is ‘expected’ of a student of his age. He acknowledges early on in the story that being in drag feels as if it’s just another part of himself and not a performance, and this is one of several realisations he has about aspects of his life and who he wants to be over the course of the book, and by the novel’s conclusion it really feels as if he is more in touch with his own emotions than he is at its beginning.

Pumpkin is a fun, inclusive and body-positive read that is not only a sweet story, but looks at some of the issues facing young people about to take their steps towards a more independent future. Though it’s part of the Clover City universe and there are the previous two books in the series, it can be read as a standalone, as the characters from the other novels make cameo appearances that don’t require the reader to have a comprehensive understanding of their stories. Thank you, Harper360 YA, for sending me a copy for review!

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