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.
Charlie Vega is such a lovable heroine to follow for all 352 pages of her journey, and I was left wanting a sequel (or more!), just to see how she’s doing. Throughout her story, she struggles with her single mother’s obsession with dieting and being thin, following the passing of her father. Fortunately, she has her best friend Amelia, but that comes with the caveat that she seems to be perfect and that she comes second to Amelia all the time, including a couple especially heartbreaking moments. Fat Chance, Charlie Vega centers around her trying to navigate the dating world and friendships in high school, and approaching prom.
Charlie is a fat, biracial, Puerto Rican high school student trying to navigate learning to love herself through her teenage years. She is involved in and actively searches for body neutral and body positive content online, including fat activists, but she can’t seem to shake the voice in her head that tells her she needs to be thin in order to be worthy. Of course, having her mother constantly berate her and berate herself don’t help at all. Charlie’s mother finds value in the number of pounds lost, restricting food, and drinking meal replacement shakes, which Charlie expressly pours into the garbage because of the shame she feels when her mother leaves them out for her in a not-subtle manner.
Crystal Maldonado took care in demonstrating and exploring various aspects of Charlie’s Puerto Rican heritage, in that at a family event, comments are made about her not speaking Spanish, yet she feels out of place in other spaces because of her skin color and background. The author crafted several characters with intersecting identities who played significant roles in Charlie’s coming of age story and growth into self-love.
One such character is Charlie’s love interest, Brian Park, who is Korean and comes from a family with two moms, and truly is the sweetest cinnamon roll you will ever find. If I went to school with a Brian, I would have most definitely had a crush on him (well, maybe not, because I had horrible taste in love interests in high school, but that’s besides the point). He is kind, compassionate, and sees Charlie for all her worth, and you can just see through Maldonado’s words how much he cares about her. She experiences many firsts with Brian, and I adored how the author wrote about those new feelings, and the butterflies in her stomach.
Charlie is also a writer, and Brian is an artist. Charlie loves writing for English class, and her amazing teacher, but she feels passionately about writing fanfiction, specifically involving romance. She imagines “first” moments and when she shares some with Brian, she compares them to what she thinks they were like in her writing pieces. They validate each other through connecting over the creative process and expression, and this is one of the many ways they feel seen in their relationship.
As the blurb says, Charlie is extremely hurt upon finding out that Brian once asked out her best friend Amelia, not only because she has feelings for him, but also that once again her self-esteem drops, seeing a thin girl get a guy she likes. Earlier in the book, she encounters this with another boy she likes, where she tries so hard but again she is overlooked in favor of her thin, popular best friend. That being said, I loved how Maldonado constructed their friendship to be, at the very core, so full of love and support for one another. Amelia roots for Charlie and vice versa, and the author makes it clear that fatphobia is a societal problem and not due to these specific girls’ interaction or dynamic. We see how Amelia’s identities intersect because she is pansexual and Black, and she navigates her own dating relationships.
I of course have to mention the gorgeous cover designed and illustrated by Ericka Lugo. The lettering is gold foiled, and Charlie is looking beautiful, in a green dress that becomes significant in the plot line, which makes me love it so much more.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Seeing Charlie learn to love herself in spite of her mother’s obsessive dieting, and constantly fighting against the ingrained fatphobia of her high school’s social structure was heartwarming and authentic. Crystal Maldonado writes teenagers in a way that feels genuine – messy, yet at the foundation of every important relationship is a desire for connection.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: Charlie Vega, a fat, biracial Puerto Rican teenage girl, navigates her first relationship with Brian Park, only to find out that he has previously asked out her thin, popular best friend Amelia.
Genre: YA Contemporary
Trigger/content warning: Fatphobia (framed in a negative light), secondary character with restrictive eating habits, death and illness of a parent as a part of character’s story (not explicit on page)