When we announced our list of the best children's books of the year, it was Julie Murphy's middle grade novel, Dear Sweet Pea, that we chose as our overall favorite. Murphy is already a bestselling author of young adult novels, including Dumplin' which was adapted into a Netflix original movie, and I was excited to see what she would do for a middle grade audience.
We chose Dear Sweet Pea because it's a story that is relatable to so many young readers. Murphy is able to put into words the emotions and struggle of seventh grade, a crossroads of growing up when new identities are being tested, old friends may grow apart, and there are plenty of opportunities to discover what's important--often the hard way.
Patricia "Sweet Pea" DiMarco is kind, funny, and like the rest of us, has her flaws. Watching her evolve over the course of the book, particularly in her relationship with her friend Oscar, warmed my heart and made me want to share this book far and wide. I wish it had been around when I was that age.
Below is an exclusive piece from Murphy about Dear Sweet Pea and what the story has meant to her.
Every book I write seems to lead me to discover a new piece of myself. Some books are painful or therapeutic, but creating and releasing my middle-grade debut, Dear Sweet Pea, has been absolutely joyous.
I’ve wanted to try my hand at writing middle-grade for a long time, but the moment that finally sealed the deal was an email I received from a reader’s mother. She explained to me that she’d seen her daughter consumed by my book, Dumplin’, and so after a while, she decided to pick it up too. She was shocked to find how much she enjoyed and related to it, but above all, she found herself re-examining the way she talked about her own body in front of her daughter. That struck me so deeply, because my own relationship with my body was shaped by the way the adults in my life acknowledged their own bodies. They always “felt” fat or couldn’t stand to have their picture taken or were “good” when they were eating a salad, but were “bad” when they ate a sandwich. I’ll never forget hearing my mom—who I believe to be the most beautiful woman in the world—calling herself fat and ugly. I thought, if you’re fat and ugly, what does that make me?
Growing up, I dreaded seeing fat bodies in media because they always meant the same thing. They were the butt of the joke, the desperate or funny best friend, the villain, or my most hated offender: a virtuous fatty who would be magically redeemable and worthy after losing weight. I wanted so badly to just see someone existing—sometimes failing; sometimes succeeding—in a fat body without fatness being a moral failure.
Patricia “Sweet Pea” DiMarco is fat. But she’s also experiencing friendship growing pains, taking on new responsibilities, and navigating her parents’ divorce. Just like each of us, she is many things, and fat is just one of them.
Every time I sit down at my keyboard, even when I’m feeling wholly unqualified, I have a moment of disbelief as the realization hits me that this is my job. Today, as I write this blog post, that feeling is stronger than ever. I’m completely humbled by the news that Dear Sweet Pea was named the best children’s book of the year by Amazon’s editors. I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self who hated to see her reflection (in books, film, television, and sometimes even a mirror) that, like people, good stories come in all shapes and sizes.
I’m thrilled to share Dear Sweet Pea with you. I hope you’ll laugh and be moved—and that it will help you change the conversation we have about our bodies every day.
You might also like:
- Editors Picks: Best Children's Books of 2019
- Gift Picks for Little Bookworms
- Other posts on kids' and young adult books and authors
- Best Kids Books of the Month
Sign up for the Amazon Book Review: Best books of the month * author interviews * the reading life * and more