Charlie Vega lives in the shadow of her thin, beautiful best friend, Amelia. Charlie is used to guys flirting with Amelia while ignoring her. Even her own mother pays more attention to Amelia than to Charlie.
After a humiliating incident at a school dance, Charlie falls for Brian, a sweet guy from her art class. Romance blooms, which prompts unexpected jealousy from Amelia and disapproval from Charlie’s mom, who thinks Charlie should set her sights on a thinner guy. During a heated argument, Amelia’s hurtful comments drive a wedge between the friends and make Charlie question her feelings for Brian.
Through Charlie’s conversational first-person narration, Crystal Maldonado explores the pressure placed on fat people to conform in a society that equates beauty with being thin and the way this pressure intersects with Charlie’s race and gender. While Charlie embraces her fat and Puerto Rican identities, she’s far from immune to feelings of insecurity about her body or the desire to be thin.
Charlie’s mother, who lost a dramatic amount of weight after Charlie’s father died, causes some of those feelings. When she buys a scale and insists that Charlie weigh herself daily, Charlie refuses and is subsequently grounded. Maldonado’s depiction of the way that beauty expectations can come not just from peers but also from family rings true.
Charlie’s relationship with Brian is sweet and tender, but like many first loves, it’s also full of awkwardness, self-doubt and jealousy. As Charlie and Brian become closer, she and Amelia begin to drift apart, forcing the girls to have tough conversations about their friendship.
Fat Chance, Charlie Vega is an accomplished debut, and its nuanced depictions of first love, a complex mother-daughter relationship and fat acceptance make it stand out.