Chubby chick-lit? Laura Jensen Walker's plus-sized protagonist and blogger, 29-year-old Fredricka "Freddie" Heinz, sets out to find romance and meaning in her life in MISS INVISIBLE, with big results.
Life hasn't gone well for Freddie. She caught her fiancé in bed before the wedding with the best man's sister, and now she works in a bakery as a cake decorator and baker where her boss makes her life miserable. Her life seems stuck --- no romance, a dead-end job and a wardrobe full of black clothes designed to hide her bulk. Walker incorporates nice touches of humor as she unfolds Freddie's story, including an endearing one-eyed pup named Zsa Zsa that only chews up books that have made the New York Times bestseller lists. The only loves besides Zsa Zsa in Freddie's life are the stack of romance novels by her bed and her stash of high-caloric food she hides from her vegetarian roommate, Brooke, while pretending to eat healthy.
Her evil boss (think THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA) gives Freddie nothing but misery, and goes through men like a knife through hot butter. ("She loves money, but she can't ever decide if she wants to make it or marry it.") Freddie's plasticine mother-in law, Candy, and her gorgeous, successful and unbelievably awful dad are ashamed of Freddie's weight and her occupation, even to the point where they offer to pay for gastric-bypass surgery. To add insult to injury, Freddie feels invisible and is often overlooked anywhere she goes.
Freddie knows how to deal with her misery: eat. And eat more.
However, this all changes when she meets the super-sized balding "236 pounds of big, black, beautiful woman" Deborah, a caterer who attends her church and helps Freddie to learn to love herself. Her friend Susan, also overweight, convinces Freddie to join a Christian singles group. "Come on….Christians are supposed to look at the inward, not the outward. So we'd have a better chance there than in a bar. Right?"
Although she's drooling over Jared, the hottie in her singles group, love looms in the form of a Grizzly Adams-type, Kentucky Fried Chicken-guzzling man named Hal, who confesses he reads romance novels and works as a veterinarian. Or will romance beckon in the form of Simon, a delightful Brit who owns a restaurant and swoons over Freddie's German potato salad? The suspense continues through the closing pages.
Walker mostly walks the fine balance between plus-sized women and health and society's fixation with abnormal underweight body types. Sometimes the tone gets a bit lecture-like (a section about the difference between unhealthy obesity and healthy larger-sized women that the characters tell rather than show), and occasionally it slips into preachiness ("Is the person we see in the mirror the same person the God of the universe sees?"). A few clichés (Deborah's son was killed by a drunk driver, a stock element in faith fiction) and the stepmother's quick transformation from wicked to likable are difficult to believe. And would a caterer really serve shrimp cocktails as the appetizer before shrimp scampi as the main course?
Interspersed throughout are some original phrases ("Deborah leaned toward the cake and sniffed the way Zsa Zsa does before she marks her territory on her walks") and enjoyable moments on the way to Freddie's self-realization. Women "fed up" (pardon the pun) with society's obsession with thinness will applaud Deborah's pronouncement, "God made you who you are in all your big, beautiful womanness, and God don't make no mistakes." Nice scenes among the bakery workers provide moments of camaraderie, and readers will cheer when Freddie finally stands up for herself.
Walker is a veteran author (RECONSTRUCTING NATALIE), and her upbeat way with dialogue and interesting characters make this chick-lit novel as appetizing as a hot fudge sundae. Come to think of it, make that one with whipped cream and a cherry.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on March 13, 2007