“Fat Chance, Charlie Vega” Tackles Fatphobia and Struggling with Self-Love

Virginia Isaad (HipLatina) reviews Crystal Maldonado’s Fat Chance, Charlie Vega (Holiday House, 2021).

Crystal Maldonado, 32, is a first-time author who grew up yearning to see a girl who looked like her in the mainstream: plus size and a woman of color. Now she’s made her own dream come true with her debut young adult novelFat Chance, Charlie Vega featuring a “fat brown girl” as the lead character. The coming-of-age story has Puerto Rican teen Charlotte “Charlie” Vega coping with a fatphobic mom and her own insecurities about her body as she experiences the highs and lows of young love. With all the typical struggles of a teenage girl – boys, school, bullying – Charlie is also grappling with self-love while exploring romantic love with one her classmates, Brian Park. The book brings to life the representation Maldonado wished for that undoubtedly other young girls dealing with similar struggles can related to.

“It has been a dream of mine to feature a fat, brown girl as the lead in a romcom YA novel for a while now. As a teen, I loved reading about first loves and first crushes, and I loved watching TV and movies that featured romance, but I never felt like I got to see someone that looked like me as a main character. I was lucky if there were fat characters featured at all,” Maldonado tells HipLatina. “I’d say this book has the five Fs, which I totally just made up: fat, fashion, feelings, friendship, and first love.”

We meet Charlie as a 16-year-old who loves writing, romance, and hanging out with her best friend, Amelia, who she feels is everything she wishes she could be: skinny, popular, and attractive. Early on, we’re introduced to her insecurities as a fat brown girl whose confidence is diminished in part because of her fatphobic mom (who is white) and bullying at school. Charlie states that early on she learned that being fat was “A Very Bad Thing, according to most.” We’re introduced to her hopes for romance as she enviously watches Amelia’s love life bloom but ultimately her story is about her evolution with self-love. Maldonado – who opened up about the bullying she experienced in a Buzzfeed essay –  beautifully encapsulates the struggle of wanting to love your curves while also being constantly fed the notion that “skinny is better.”

“I’m fat, and I celebrate other fat people, but I don’t quite celebrate me. It makes me feel like a fraud,” Charlie laments.

In developing the character, Maldonado injected a lot of her own struggles and interests growing up. The initial synopsis in her head was simple, she says, “fat, brown girl falls in love” but then she set out to create a more nuanced character. The universal pain of heartbreak and desire for love plays a huge part in Charlie’s story as it’s a reflection of her internal struggle with self-love. As she navigates difficult interactions with her mom, Amelia, and Brian she’s forced to face how her own insecurities have affected those relationships.

“Her shift in the way she viewed and treated herself ultimately led her to her victories, and I really hope that’s the case for us all,” Maldonado says.

Leading up to this reframing in perspective, Charlie is forced to constantly think about who she wants to be as she confronts difficult situations at school and home. The book expertly weaves in realistic depictions of high school (where to sit for lunch?) to texting your crush (the dread of the three dots) to the hurt caused from bullying. Fatphobia emerges in various scenarios throughout the book but most prominently with her interactions with her mom and Charlie’s own internalized hate. [. . .]

For full review, see https://hiplatina.com/fat-chance-charlie-vega/

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