Fat Chance, Charlie Vega

Holiday House. Feb. 2021. 288p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780823447176.
Gr 9 Up–Charlie Vega is struggling, and who can blame her? She’s continuously bullied by her mother about her weight, resigned to being overshadowed by her thin and popular best friend Amelia, withdrawn from her Puerto Rican extended family after the death of her father, and tossed aside by her admittedly unworthy crush. When she meets a new coworker, Brian, it’s not easy to let go of her insecurities in pursuit of her own happiness. Charlie’s romantic journey is adorable, perfectly encompassing all the giddy hopes and insecurities of first love. Maldonado dumps all the old tropes that have so often portrayed teenage boys as being manipulative and mean until finally realizing that maybe a female character is worthwhile. Here, love interest Brian is constant, compassionate, and kind from the beginning. The teenage characters act out with some high school melodrama, especially Charlie and Amelia as they adjust to their changing friendship. However, they own and apologize for their actions, demonstrating an emotional maturity and self-awareness not always credited to teenagers. Charlie’s mother’s tentative acceptance of her isn’t convincing enough to overcome the fat-shaming and emotional abuse she demonstrates throughout the story, however, it’s Charlie’s personal growth that matters the most. She starts out knowing that she should love and accept herself, but believing it is hard. Getting there is worth the bumps along the way. The characters are diverse and authentic—Charlie’s dad was Puerto Rican and her mother is white, Amelia is pansexual and Black, and Brian is Korean American with two moms.
VERDICT Sweet and sincere, Charlie Vega’s journey is a delight.

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