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Book Review: Dietland
A novel takes on our anti-woman culture
Crystal Stevens

Dietland revolves around Plum Kettle, a 300-pound woman in her 20s. She believes, like so many of us, that skinny equals beautiful and that once skinny, she’ll be happy. Plum (one letter short of “plump”) has rosy cheeks and a black bob. Her first-person narrative is dominated by negative self-talk about her weight. She’s a timid, secluded person, often hiding behind her computer screen, losing herself in her work writing advice columns for a teen magazine called Daisy Chain.

She rarely leaves her apartment; her only excursions are to her friend Carmen’s cafe, where she often does her work, and the “Waist Watchers” meetings she attends in the basement of a church. Her existence is one of isolation, grayness, and monotony.

During an annual physical exam, an ultrasound is done to “make sure everything was ‘OK inside.’” Plum sees her womb, which makes her think about her identity as a woman. “I had never liked to call myself a woman,” she says. “I knew I was one, but the word never sounded right when applied to me.”

After that she decides to get weight-loss surgery. She imagines the surgery giving her the life she has always envisioned; life as a skinny girl, or “normal.” She thinks being smaller will make her feel more feminine.

Revenge Against Rape Culture

However, her weight-loss plan is halted when she catches the eye of a girl in colorful leggings at her friend’s cafe. The girl guides Plum to Calliope House, a radical community of diverse women who are unified by their determination to fight sexism in a male-dominated world.

The stories of the women at Calliope House resonate with Plum. For the first time, she steps out of her bland routine and into a new environment influenced by women, not men. Simultaneously, a female vigilante group called “Jennifer” makes news, as they try to eliminate sexism by killing men who mistreat women (for instance, tossing rapists off a highway overpass).

image by YC-Art Dept

This sparks an international revolution as the vigilantes empower women to shed their submissive demeanors and fight for equality and respect. The military from countries around the world begin a hunt for the Jennifer leaders.

Like a Superhero Movie

The revelation of the culprit behind the attacks was a surprise, although it made sense. Dietland captured my attention like a superhero movie and refused to let go. The attacks mirror Plum’s journey toward self-acceptance, and as the novel progresses, readers will understand how the two go hand in hand. Walker did an incredible job of layering the two stories. This adds to the novel’s impact.

Walker also does a commendable job of creating multi-dimensional characters. Plum’s evolution occurs in stages, as she moves through emotions such as denial, anger, gratitude, and empowerment.

Plum faces tribulations that most females have either endured or can in some way relate to. For instance, when Plum’s blind dates go wrong, her feelings are funny, yet also poignant: “Preston would be expecting a thin person—people always expect a thin person—and so I knew when he laid eyes on me for the first time, he would react as everyone reacts, by trying to hide his surprise and disappointment, even revulsion. From the inside I felt small and insignificant, but that’s not what people saw when they looked at me.”

I was glued to every page, enticed by the story’s twists. I wasn’t certain what would happen next and every time I guessed, I was wrong. A true page-turner, Dietland takes the reader on a roller coaster of emotions as Plum’s journey unfolds.

Dietland will make you step back and question how women are treated in our society. At the same time, it promotes female wisdom and empowerment and provides some interesting insights for teens of both sexes.

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