Fat Girl on a Plane

  • By Kelly deVos
  • Harlequin Teen
  • 384 pp.
  • Reviewed by Caroline Bock
  • July 10, 2018

An overweight, fashion-obsessed teen navigates her turbulent world.

Fat Girl on a Plane

In Fat Girl on a Plane, debut novelist Kelly deVos dives deep into how we make life’s big decisions. For 17-year-old protagonist Cookie Vonn, the question is whether to go to college in New York City at the world-famous (and famously competitive) Parsons School of Design, or stay local and attend Arizona State University.

However, the concept of this novel is actually built on the question of whether to live life as a skinny girl or a fat one — and how do those lives differ? Fat Girl on a Plane is more successful when addressing the first question; its handling of the second is uneven. And therein lies the rub with this flawed, frustrating, but ambitious rookie work.

The novel alternates chapters with headings that focus on how Cookie’s size impacts her pursuit of a life in design. For instance, the chapter “SKINNY: Day 738 of NutriNation” gives us the after-story: she is happily flying to New York, having been invited to Fashion Week — where designers show off their goods — because she is a well-known teen blogger.

This chapter is followed by one in which the trip is envisioned differently; she is now overweight. In “FAT: Two days before NutriNation,” Cookie heads to Manhattan worried that she’ll be classified as too heavy to fly. This fear comes to fruition when she switches planes at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

While the book’s structure is inventive and fast-paced, a reader must stay alert to the chapter headings or all is lost. The narrative bounces between “skinny” and “fat” threads, with blog posts from Cookie interspersed throughout. The effect is a jarring juxtaposition between the highs and lows of dieting and fashion, but the mash-up makes each subject feel like less, not more.

In a note that prefaces the novel, the author warns, “This is not a Cinderella weight loss story.” DeVos’ own experience, in fact, inspired the book. Like her lead character, deVos was once “declared too fat to fly on a trip from Phoenix to Salt Lake City.”

And while the author lands neither of the book’s ricocheting perspectives smoothly, her language soars when Cookie grapples with her passion to create:

“I’m going to Parsons. I’m living in the city of my dreams with the man of my dreams going to the school of my dreams.

“No. I’m staying at ASU. I imagine the campus. Outside the building, there are rows and rows of succulent plants. The smooth scallops of green and purple echeveria. The spike stalks of Agave. I love to sit back there on the concrete as it cools in the evening, dreaming of collars that jut up like mountains behind the campus, skirts that twist into cactus forms.”

It’s in passages like this that Cookie emerges as a fierce advocate of fashion for everyone. She wants to be an inclusive designer, and that’s an admirable message for girls everywhere.   

Caroline Bock is author of the critically acclaimed young-adult novels LIE and Before My Eyes. Her debut short-story collection, Carry Her Home, won the 2018 Fiction Award from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House and will be published by this venerable small press in trade paperback and e-book this October.

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