Review: Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado

  • Title: Fat Chance, Charlie Vega
  • Author: Crystal Maldonado
  • Genre: contemporary fiction
  • Intended audience: young adult
  • Format read: ebook
  • Publisher: Holiday House
  • Pub date: February 2, 2021
  • Trigger warnings: grief, fatphobia (external and internalized), mentioned death of a parent, mentions of sex, underage drinking, diet culture, strained/toxic relationship with parent, racism
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Coming of age as a Fat brown girl in a white Connecticut suburb is hard. Harder when your whole life is on fire, though.

Charlie Vega is a lot of things. Smart. Funny. Artistic. Ambitious. Fat.

People sometimes have a problem with that last one. Especially her mom. Charlie wants a good relationship with her body, but it’s hard, and her mom leaving a billion weight loss shakes on her dresser doesn’t help. The world and everyone in it have ideas about what she should look like: thinner, lighter, slimmer-faced, straighter-haired. Be smaller. Be whiter. Be quieter.

But there’s one person who’s always in Charlie’s corner: her best friend Amelia. Slim. Popular. Athletic. Totally dope. So when Charlie starts a tentative relationship with cute classmate Brian, the first worthwhile guy to notice her, everything is perfect until she learns one thing–he asked Amelia out first. So is she his second choice or what? Does he even really see her? UGHHH. Everything is now officially a MESS.

A sensitive, funny, and painful coming-of-age story with a wry voice and tons of chisme, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega tackles our relationships to our parents, our bodies, our cultures, and ourselves.

I read Fat Chance, Charlie Vega for TeaTimeLit’s September book club, and I am so happy that the book club pushed me to read it! It is a compelling coming of age story that feels incredibly raw and honest in its portrayal of the messy emotions of teenagerhood. It’s exactly the kind of young adult book that I think we need more of (so much so that I already filled out a YALSA nomination form for their 2022 best fiction for young adults award.)

My favorite thing about this book was definitely Charlie’s character. She is smart and funny and strong, but she is also dealing with a lot and has plenty of flaws. I loved watching her evolve and mature throughout the story. We as readers really get to see her come into herself as she gains confidence, learns to go for what she wants, and learns to be a better friend.

I loved Charlie’s journey of friendship throughout the book. I loved the way Charlie and Amanda’s friendship was written, I thought it was a realistic portrait of two teenage best friends. They definitely have their ups and downs, but in the end they care so much about supporting each other. However, it was also great to see Charlie make new friends, and reconnect with her old ones. My favorite scene in the book was Charlie’s birthday party, where she meets her friends and some people who she considers to only be Amanda’s friends, and it ends up being such a joyful scene. There are also a few scenes where Charlie reconnects with her cousins on her dad’s side of the family, who she used to be good friends with but who she grew apart from after her dad’s death. It was a rejuvenating scene of friendship and family.

One major theme of the book is Charlie’s experiences as a fat girl. She struggles a lot with the outside factors that make her life more difficult (diet culture, the fact that she can’t shop at the stores her friends do), and she also deals a lot with self-perception. Charlie is really involved with online fat positive communities, but while she can see other fat people as beautiful, she has a hard time seeing the same thing in herself. “I’m fat and celebrate other fat people, but I don’t quite celebrate me.” And she admits to her internalized fat-phobia, “I would secretly give anything to be thin, while outwardly and openly rebelling against the idea that anyone should have to.” A lot of the book is Charlie’s journey of learning to see her own self-worth, be kinder to herself, and stand up for herself.

I also just want to shout out how well the conflict with Charlie’s mom is done. The book acknowledges when both Charlie and her mom cross lines, and doesn’t end with a dishonest perfect picture, but a more realistic portrayal where not everything is perfect, but they are working on it.

Overall, I have nothing but good things to say about this book. It’s an open and honest coming of age story that I think will mean a lot to the teenagers (and adults!) who read it. If you are looking for a high-quality young adult book, I would highly recommend Fat Chance, Charlie Vega.

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