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.
Title: Fat Chance, Charlie Vega
Author: Crystal Maldonado
Publisher: Holiday House
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
Targeted Age Range: Young Adult
Representation: Half Puerto Rican Fat main character, Black pansexual side character, Korean love interest
Trigger Warnings: Fataphobia, mentioned death of a parent, mentions of sex, underage drinking (chapter 13), racism, a strained relationship with a parent, diet culture, emotional abuse + manipulation
From the second I started Fat Chance, Charlie Vega and saw that in her dedication, author Crystal Maldonado wrote, “to every Fat brown girl out there – I see you”, I knew that this book would be special to me. I found Fat Chance, Charlie Vega incredibly moving.In fact, 5 pages in I sent a text to Mary and Cossette that simply said, “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega is already making me very emotional and I’m like 5 pages in”
Charlie Vega is a character that feels so real to me. I see some of myself in her; I see bits of people that I’ve known in her. Because of that, I felt an immediate connection to her. Though there were times where I didn’t agree with her choices, I still understood how she got there. I’ve felt some of those fears before. I’ve had some of those thoughts before. She simply made sense to me, and I loved that. She felt relatable and honest and real and because of those things, I found myself fully immersed in her story.
It’s not easy being the fat girl, especially as a kid/teen. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a friend like Amelia (which I thankfully was/am), who sees who you really are and not your size, you are still acutely aware that the world has a problem with you. It really affects your psyche. You spend so much time being so aware of how much space you take up, the way your clothing fits, how much you’re eating around other people and how you look compared to your (thin) friends. Add being a person of color to that and your mind is constantly thinking about all the different ways you don’t “fit in.”
Internalized fatphobia is a real thing and something that you deal with every single day. There’s a moment where Charlie talks about how she fully believes in body positivity and that all bodies are beautiful bodies, but she has a hard time believing that about herself. That really hit home, as that’s essentially how I have felt my entire life.
“I believe that people can be healthy at any size. I think other fat girls are absolutely beautiful But my mind struggles to bridge the gap between the two ideologies. I’m fat, and I celebrate other fat people, but I don’t quite celebrate me”
While I don’t wish these thoughts and feelings on anyone (real or fictional) there was something comforting in reading a story about a character who has had the exact same thoughts and struggles as me. It’s a reminder that I am not alone. I’m not the only person that goes through this! There are others who feel this. Those little reminders really can bring some momentary peace even though this is a continuous internal battle.
There was also a part where Charlie talked about “not feeling enough” because she is half Puerto Rician and doesn’t speak Spanish. I’m half Filipino (well okay less than half, but still) and I don’t speak Tagalog. I only understand a few words. Reading about Charlie struggling to feel like she fits in with her Puerto Rician side really resonated with me, as I have totally been there before.
As I’m sure many of you know, I’m a huge fan of books that have strong friendships and found family. The friendship between Charlie and Amelia was one of my favorite parts of the book. They’re the type of friends who will drop everything because the other needs them, the ones that are always there to cheer the other person on, and the ones that will always defend and protect each other. Friendships like that, true friendships, can be few and far between but if you have that you know how lucky you are and Charlie and Amelia were so lucky to have each other. That’s not to say that they didn’t have their own share of problems or fights, because they did, but those things only made their bond stronger. I would also like to point out that I thought Maldonado wrote the fight between the two in a wonderfully real way. The fight wasn’t filled with any cattiness or low blows, and the way the girls worked through the fight was incredibly mature and I believe would lead them to create a deeper and stronger friendship. I thought that was especially important because Charlie wasn’t given a lot of support from her mother, but she was given that support from Amelia and I thought it was beautiful.
Charlie’s relationship with her mother was incredibly difficult to read. It broke my heart every time that her mother would make jabs that put down Charlie, would disregard Charlie’s needs, or how she would, in turn, play the victim when she had treated Charlie in a way that was disrespectful and degrading. It broke my heart that her mother spent more time seeing Charlie’s weight than who she was as a person. And it broke me that Charlie wasn’t even surprised when it happened. While it was heartbreaking to read these things, I was so proud of Charlie for standing up for herself and setting boundaries, and I actually really liked that at the end of the book the issues with her mom were not tied up in a neat little bow. I felt that where we left them at the end of the story was very realistic, but there was definitely hope there for a better future.
While there is a romantic storyline (Brian is precious and I love him), the real focus was on Charlie and her journey of self-discovery and learning to love herself. It was a continuous battle for her, as it is for any of us, and I loved to see how she grew throughout the story.
Fat Chance, Charlie Vega was the book that I needed as a teenager. It’s not easy being a fat/plus-sized girl in the society we live in. We so rarely see ourselves represented in a positive light or in a way that is not the butt of the joke. Media that paints us in a good light was and is still few and far between. While I wish I had this book when I was younger, I’m so glad that it exists now and that Crystal Maldonado wrote this story and this character to remind girls (and boys) everywhere that they are beautiful no matter what their size.
Enter to win one (1) finished copy of Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado! Open USA only. There will be 1 winner.
Giveaway starts: Monday, February 8, 2021
Giveaway ends: Monday, February 15, 2021 at 12:00 a.m. CST
Click here to enter. Good luck, everyone!
Crystal Maldonado is a young adult author with a lot of feelings. Her debut novel, FAT CHANCE, CHARLIE VEGA (Holiday House), will be released on Feb. 2, 2021.
By day, she is a social media manager working in higher ed, and by night, a writer who loves Beyoncé, shopping, the internet, and being extra.
She lives in western Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and dog.