My thoughts on Kelly deVos’ Fat Girl on a Plane are complicated at best. I went into this book really wanting to love it; for a long time, I avoided reading anything that had a fat protagonist, because I didn’t want to face the same things that I deal with every day of my life in a fictional book. Over the last year or so, that’s changed, and I’ve started picking up more books with fat characters. I’ve started demanding better fat representation in comics. I’ve started following more fat influencers on social media and being more vocal about my own experiences as a fat person in my writing and on social media.
So I really wanted to love Fat Girl on a Plane. The story follows Cookie Vonn, an up-and-coming fashion blogger who believes that losing weight will give her the life she’s always wanted. For a while, that seems to be true: she goes on a Weight Watchers-style diet, drops her dress size, and gets the opportunity of a lifetime to design a plus-size capsule collection with the biggest name in fashion. Along the way, there’s a lot of friends and family drama, as well as her first romance, and she discovers that being thin isn’t the key to having the life she wants, though it takes her quite a while to get there.
Fat Girl on a Plane is told through two timelines, labeled as “Fat” and “Skinny”, with a day beside them to indicate how long Cookie has been on her diet plan at any given point in the story. I’ve seen a number of reviewers say that this is one of the book’s biggest failings, but I disagree. I think concurrent timelines can be really effective, and I think deVos demonstrates a solid understanding of how to work the story that she wants to tell into this framework.
The overall story, in fact, is okay. It’s not great; I think there is far better fat representation in young adult fiction right now and that there is room for more. I also think that the story deVos said she wanted to tell in her author’s note is not actually the one she ended up telling. That happens. Stories run away with us and end up somewhere different than we expected. But while I see why everyone has been so critical of how fat is represented in this book, my issues don’t really lie there.
Here’s a brief overview of what I took issue with in Fat Girl on a Plane:
1. Gareth Miller. Cookie worships him in his role as a fashion icon, but when she actually meets him, she is utterly turned off by his comments about fat people. She finds him smarmy and unlikeable, although she does acknowledge that he’s very physically attractive. However, her issues with his personality are pushed aside as soon as he demonstrably wants to have sex with her, and their relationship dominates most of the book.
Gareth is at times downright abusive in how inconsiderate he is of Cookie’s feelings and ambitions; he’s controlling, he’s disrespectful, and he has no capacity for humility. He angers easily and makes Cookie believe that she needs him to succeed, something that blows up in her face when his bottom line is threatened by the fat people he very clearly expresses his disdain for in the first thirty seconds of their first meeting.
Why was it necessary for this relationship to be a romance? There was no tension, no build-up, no believable chemistry; Cookie’s feelings toward Gareth were so compulsively heterosexual that I nearly gagged. The story would have worked better with these two in an antagonistic, strictly professional relationship — especially because Cookie is just 19 years old, has never been with anyone, and is given no time to process how she feels about suddenly jumping into a very public, very sexual relationship with a man who’s more than a decade her senior (and known for using and discarding women, to the point that Cookie has to sign a document agreeing not to trash his name if they have a sexual relationship that goes sour).
2. The unnecessary skinny/fat girl drama between Cookie and Kennes. The overall thesis of this book is that fashion doesn’t care about fat bodies, but it does care about fat wallets. That’s absolutely true. Fashion brands want applause for doing a minimal amount of work by featuring size 14 models in one campaign per year, but won’t offer anything above a size 16 (and if they do, they charge twice as much for it) — forcing us to shop for accessories while our thin friends frolic through stores at the mall trying on something from every rack.
Tension between fat and skinny people, especially in fashion, absolutely exists. But to create an unnecessary love triangle between Cookie, Kennes, and Tommy felt formulaic, predictable, and honestly just kind of shitty. I would have rather seen Cookie’s relationship with Piper develop more (why was her abusive boyfriend situation never resolved? Furthermore, why did Piper never call out how controlling Gareth was? Why weren’t Cookie and Piper just fat, fashionable lesbians in love?) or witnessed Cookie and Kennes actually learning how to work together. I’m tired of mean girl drama. I know it happens, but when it’s as over the top and predictable as it was in this novel, it just feels like another attempt to show just how fucked up the world is for fat folx.
We know. There were better, less focused ways to go about representing fat hate from skinny people that didn’t dominate the entire book or present a love triangle that felt forced and awkward.
3. The ending. There were so many opportunities for Cookie to see things for what they really were well before she actually did, and it felt like deVos undermined her intelligence and her observational skills by not trusting Cookie to do so. Her impassioned blog post was good, but felt trite after everything, and her speech to Tommy was even less evocative. I left this book feeling pretty deflated, not only because I had to force myself to keep reading once Cookie and Gareth started sleeping together but because the ending I hoped for just didn’t come to fruition.
Authors, please trust your characters. How will your readers trust them if you don’t?
Like I said, I really wanted to love Fat Girl on a Plane. It’s why I kept reading even after I felt like I should stop. I can’t say that I’m glad I finished, and that kind of sucks. I want to support the work of other fat people and encourage you to do so, too. This book, unfortunately, just didn’t work for me. Were it reframed with a better overall arc and more believable tension between the characters, I would have enjoyed it a helluva lot more.
Have you read Fat Girl on a Plane? Did you enjoy it? Tell me your thoughts in the comments! I’d love to discuss this book more, especially with my fat readers.
Overall rating: ★★½
Recommended for: N/A