Group Discussion: Fat Chance, Charlie Vega

*As is usual with our discussions, there may be a few spoilers ahead so beware.*

We were all eager to read something fun as we were getting to the one year mark in this very challenging time. Fat Chance, Charlie Vega seemed like a promising pick – and it proved to be exactly what we were seeking. I’m thankful that author Crystal Maldonado shared Charlie with the world. To find out more about Crystal, hop over to the interview here. It was great to hear directly from her about her writing.

Publisher summary: 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?

Because it’s time people did.

A sensitive, funny, and painful coming-of-age story with a wry voice and tons of chisme, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega tackles our relationships to our parents, our bodies, our cultures, and ourselves.

Let the discussion begin…

Crystal: Fat Chance, Charlie Vega made me smile just when I needed plenty of smiles. Over the past twelve months, I’ve found myself picking up many more rom-coms than usual. Even with the difficulties that the main character might face, readers still get to hope for at least a partially happy or hopeful ending and that is what I’ve been craving. Stories that deliver some joy can sure make a day brighter and Charlie’s story, totally did that for me. 

K. Imani: I so agree. I’ve been doing the same over the past year and I really needed this sweet story. Like you Charlie’s story made me smile so many times. I loved how much she grew in this story and how she had such a loving heart. 

Jessica: Ditto! There were so many times I looked up from reading and realized I was actually, physically smiling. I can’t get enough of YA romance right now.

Audrey: Fat Chance, Charlie Vega had some incredibly sweet and genuinely happy moments, and I was really glad we all agreed on this one for our first book discussion this year. That’s not to say there aren’t hard parts in this book–there are some that hit incredibly close to home–but it was so very nice to settle down with a book that had promised us an uplifting ending. I plowed through it in just two days and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Crystal: I found the cover to be simply lovely. Charlie is gorgeous and looks like she’s feeling beautiful in the midst of the flowers and warm colors. And she’s wearing glasses. I’ve worn glasses for most of my life, but when I was young, I thought nobody sophisticated or beautiful wore them if they could help it. Ruse by Cindy Pon, When Dimple Met Rishi (back of cover) and Slay by Brittney Morris are really the only other YA book covers I can think of that feature a main character with glasses. Mei in American Panda references her nearsightedness, but her mother says that “no woman is attractive in glasses” so Mei doesn’t wear them. Maybe there are other books, but there certainly aren’t many so it was fun to see Charlie rocking her glasses.

K. Imani: Fellow glasses wearer here too and I loved that the cover had Charlie wearing her glasses and that throughout the book she would fiddle with her glasses. It was such a small thing, but I loved how Maldonado wrote the little habits glass wearers do that are tied to how we’re feeling, use as a distraction, etc, that our glasses are really an extension of our being. 

Jessica: Fat Chance, Charlie Vega definitely was one of my favorite YA covers to come out in recent years. The colors, the character, the font! Everything about the cover was just so gorgeous. 

Audrey: I adore the cover. Not just because Charlie is a fat, glasses-wearing Latina like me but also because it reminded me a lot of Charlie’s references to the body positivity and fat fashion movements. The cover could be an Instagram post–Charlie front and center, looking right at the camera, all dressed up and with a gorgeous background behind her. Ericka Lugo, the Puerto Rican illustrator who designed the cover, did a phenomenal job. 

Crystal: Charlie is delightful, but her relationships are seriously complicated. She has some work to do in her relationships with her mom, food, her best friend, her crushes, and most importantly with herself. This is the messiness that makes Charlie’s story feel real. The book did make me smile, but there are some struggles here too and I appreciated that Maldonado let us see Charlie do some hard work.

K. Imani: I feel like all the messiness from Charlie’s relationships is what really connected me to her. No one is perfect 100% of the time and sometimes we get into our own heads and can sabotage ourselves with our relationships. The thing with Charlie is that she learned from it, told people how she felt and made amends. Such great personal growth that is a tough journey to go on, but one we humans do on a constant basis. 

Jessica: I loved that the book didn’t shy away from the messiness and complicated aspects of Charlie’s relationships, particularly with her best friend and her mother. I especially loved how Charlie’s relationships tangibly changed and grew as the book progressed — she called out her mother on her mother’s toxic behavior, and got to a better place with Amelia. So many complex relationships were in play, and the nuance given to each relationship was really incredible. 

Audrey: I think some of the most honest parts in this book were when Charlie knew–intellectually–that there was absolutely nothing wrong with being fat, that being fat doesn’t mean unhealthy or unloveable, but she was still affected by those messages and ideas. She still bought into some of them even while acknowledging they were wrong and unfair. It was rough to see her deal with those things and how they affected her own self-esteem and her relationships with others, but it was also incredibly genuine. 

Crystal: Many of the issues with relationships are tangled up in how Charlie sees her body. She’s fat and is working hard to have a good and positive relationship with her body, but this is a journey that has ups and downs especially since it seems that some people aren’t willing to accept Charlie as she is. Her own mother seems to think Charlie’s body is not beautiful at the present size and thinks losing weight is essential for Charlie’s happiness. The U.S. culture strongly equates worth with our beauty standards and many of us don’t see how damaging this can be for ourselves and others. Readers can even see this in the relationship Charlie’s mother has with her own body.

K. Imani: Charlie’s relationship with her mother bothered me so much and showed how toxic our society is towards women’s bodies that her mother didn’t even realize she was hurting her child. I’m glad that Charlie sought out the body positive movement and referenced it a number of times throughout the book so folks could see how seeing yourself represented living a fully happy life, despite your size, is life affirming. It definitely was a nice juxtaposition to the messages she was receiving from her mother. On a side note, I really enjoyed how Charlie was a secret clothes hoarder and that she had a great sense of fashion. 

Jessica: I sound like a broken record now, but I’m seriously in awe of how Charlie’s relationships — particularly with her mother — are portrayed. It’s messy, and tough, and I absolutely cheered when Charlie really told her mother how she felt. I also loved how the story depicted Charlie’s own not-so-linear journey when it came to her self-esteem, and the role that online communities played in that. Sometimes it’s easy to think of the internet as just a place of toxicity and trolls, but the truth is that there are so many wonderful communities online. 

Audrey: Charlie’s relationship with her mom was so difficult and complicated, especially with her mother having put so much effort into losing weight and being able to keep it off. At one point Charlie acknowledges that her mom probably doesn’t even realize she’s being cruel. It was such a relief when Charlie was finally able to express her feelings about her mom’s behavior and comments. It didn’t magically make things better, but Charlie was able to say what she really thought and tell her mother that she was hurting her. There were a lot of painful conversations in this book, but in the end they helped Charlie sort out her important relationships and her feelings about herself.

Crystal: I agree with Brian and Charlie that Valentine’s Day isn’t always great for everyone. The heart-meltingly sweet way that Brian dealt with that made me smile. To later find out that Crystal Maldonado experienced something very similar with her husband when they were younger made it even sweeter. 

K. Imani: I loved what Brian did for Charlie, and their classmates, on Valentine’s day. It was so sweet and moving and definitely endeared me to his character. 

Jessica: Regarding the valentines: Gasp. I did not know that! That’s so sweet. Wow. 

Audrey: That’s so sweet! I really liked reading about Brian and Charlie’s relationship. The Valentine’s Day scene was incredibly endearing, and their bookstore date was also lovely. There were several great moments between them as their romance developed. I especially appreciated that Charlie–a fat character!–got to want and enjoy things like hand holding and kissing and being attracted to someone and feeling attractive. I loved all of that.

Crystal: I think we can all agree that reading this book was a delight. We recommend it especially if you’re looking for something to give you a little joy. If you’ve read it, please share your thoughts here in the comments or on our Twitter account. We’d love to hear from you.