When "Diary Of A Mad Fat Girl' by Stephanie McAfee arrived in our mailbox, we thought it looked like a fun, summer read, but also suspected it might contain some overdone Southern cliches. We were wrong. McAfee, who was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, but now lives in Florida, has written a fresh novel with a cast of lovable characters that anyone who grew up in or lives in a small town can relate to.
Bugtussle, Mississippi, is a fictional town (there is a Bug Tussle Lane in Pinola and a Bugtussle, Kentucky) where everybody knows your business and you know theirs. Main character Graciela "Ace" Jones moved back to her Daddy's hometown at age 11 and remembers her Nashville-born mom wasn't thrilled.
"I remember Daddy was so happy when he got that job down there, and Gramma Jones was positively thrilled that her boy was moving back home. My mom, however, didn't share their enthusiasm. She had no affection for Bugtussle, and our visits here had always been brief ... She did her best to be excited and supportive, but it was easy to see that she was heartbroken. And she didn't adjust well to small-town life. Isabella Jones drank beer and didn't care who saw her, and that just wasn't the way women did things in Bugtussle. Add to that the fact that she won at everything she did, and you've got a recipe for social disaster."
Ace follows in her mother's footsteps when it comes to beer drinking and also has trouble accepting the social norms of Bugtussle. Sometimes, small-town life makes her want to scream, and she does, often. She also fights back, even against boys, eats lots of pizza and wonders why her gym doesn't have a separate area for fat girls.
There's no question that Ace is a strong, Southern woman readers will root for, but McAfee's book is filled with a variety of Southern women. One of our favorites is Gloria Peacock.
Gloria Peacock is a spunky senior citizen rumored to be one of the richest women in the South. Word is she knows everything about everybody in town and has known everything about everybody in town for the past fifty years. Maybe longer.
We all know a Gloria Peacock, and as soon as Ace and her friend, Lilly, become involved with her, the plot thickens. Other characters include Chloe, whose abusive husband is almost more than strong-willed Ace can take, a chiweenie dog named Buster Loo, Mason McKenzie, Ace's childhood sweetheart, and Ethan Allen, who owns the town bar and is not named after the furniture store.
"Diary of a Mad Fat Girl" was first published as an e-book in 2010, and it's not hard to see why it became an instant bestseller. Wendy Wax, author of "Ten Beach Road," called it "Fresh and funny. Ace Jones is a hoot! This is what Sex and the City might have been if Carrie and her friends were looking for love in Bugtussle, Mississippi, instead of Manhattan."
Now available in paperback, McAfee's book is much more than just a hoot. It's an inspiring read, with plans to become a series, for full-figured Southern gals who, like Ace, have no problem swigging beer and frequently skipping visits to the gym. Full-figured herself, McAfee blogs at Mad Fat Friday on topics like "Top Ten Things That Make a Fat Girl Mad" and her recent purchase of a Weight Watchers cookbook.
"So what am I mad about today?" she wrote recently. "Well, I’ll just tell you! Today I’m mad because I can’t afford a personal chef. Why? Well, for starters, because I would like to get my paws on some low-fat, heart-healthy, good-fer-ye food that doesn’t taste like a bucket o’ ass with a side of raw soy beans, that’s why!"
This month, McAfee is traveling through Florida and South Carolina, with a final April 13-14 stop at the Arkansas Literary Festival in Little Rock. Click here for her full schedule. Follow her on Twitter @Mad_Fat_Girl (using the hashtag #fatgirlprobz) or like her on Facebook.