Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for Fat Chance, Charlie Vega are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.
I was graced with an ARC of Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado thanks to Hear Our Voices Book Tours. This post is part of the book tour (you can find a link to the rest of the tour posts in the banner above).
Content Warning: Mentions of fatphobia
OwnVoices Reflection of Fat Chance Charlie Vega
When this novel came across my radar, I knew I needed to read it immediately. A fat, Puerto Rican girl with the last name Vega (my mom’s maiden name). How could I not?! And I’m so glad I did. For the HOV tour, I opted to create an OwnVoices reflection.
From the moment I saw the cover, I knew this was a story written for me. A tan girl with round face, dark, wavy hair and glasses, she looks exactly like I did in high school. Albeit, more confident. As I read the novel, I felt Charlie so deep in my bones. Playing tough and confident on the outside, while secretly living in shame and self-doubt. The way she constantly compares herself to her best friend and thinks she comes in second hit so close to home.
I’ve spent a lifetime combatting the fatphobia on all fronts – internally and externally. I just turned 30 and to this day I still waffle back and forth between finding happiness in who I am and misery in wanting to be a better version of myself. So much of it stems from defiance of societal standards but longing for social acceptance.
I may be much older than the target demographic of this book, but Charlie’s story made me feel seen. And I know she’s going to make so many other girls like me and her feel seen, too. I’m so glad fat, Puerto Rican high school girls today will have her, always in their corner.
Summary of Fat Chance Charlie Vega
Charlie just wants to come first to someone. She feels like she’s always coming second, especially to her best friend. As she goes on a journey of self-acceptance and learns to love hersef, she comes to realize she already does come first for so many. Most importantly, she learns she must come first for herself.
Charlie Vega is Puerto Rican. Smart. A talented writer. And fat. As the Goodreads blurb states, “some people have a problem with that last one.” It’s true, Charlie is all these things, but she’s so much more. She’s confident and insecure, tough and vulnerable, a champion for and capable of hurting others. In short, she’s a human being. But she’s constantly working toward self-acceptance and acceptance of others.
Our main character has a strained relationship with her mom, who frankly, is emotionally abusive. It would have been easy to create a parental character the readers could hate. But Maldonado’s writing is deft and makes Charlie’s mom nuanced. In fact, all the characters contain multitudes. Charlie’s best friend Amelia supports and encourages Charlie to believe in herself. But she’s also capable of letting anger and jealousy get the best of her.
Maldonado did an excellent job in creating fully fleshed characters. There are no sinners and saints. These are simply complicated, imperfect people constantly trying to do their best and sometimes falling short. She does a careful balancing act of acknowledging that however unintentional, problematic behavior is not condoned. But she never condemns her characters either, instead allowing them the grace to forgive one another for their transgressions.
The story centers around a main character in love with romance and finding her own happy ending. She’s also passionate about fashion and closely follows the fatshion hashtag on social media. Charlie talks a big game of challenging beauty standards, but she still struggles with accepting it within herself many times. It’s what makes her so compelling.
Through her roller coaster ride, she ends up accepting an invitation from her crush Cal to a big deal dance in their town. Except, it wasn’t really an invitation for her; Cal used her to try to get to Amelia. This narrative point was predictable as the reader could see this coming based on Charlie’s checking out during the conversation. But I did appreciate that when the cringe moment came, it wasn’t as publicly humiliating as these moments are often depicted.
Based on how much time was spent on the Charlie/Cal storyline, it seemed like this would be the main conflict of the book. But when Brian comes into the picture and becomes Charlie’s first boyfriend, it takes the narrative on a whole different path. While I enjoyed the Brian portion of the story much more, it did leave the novel feeling unbalanced. However, the character dynamics and HEA helped offset the pacing issues enough to make it a most enjoyable story.