Book and Food Pairing: Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado

The Book

  • Title: Fat Chance, Charlie Vega
  • Author: Crystal Maldonado
  • Publisher:  Holiday House
  • Release Date: 2/2/21
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Age Range: Young Adult
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Publisher’s 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? UGHHH. Everything is now officially a MESS. 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.

As someone who has spent many years struggling with weight and body image, I could immediately relate to Charlie. Because I understood these insecurities so deeply, I wished I could take her under my wing and tell her how wonderful and beautiful she is.

I cheered Charlie on through her journey to self-acceptance to self-discovery. I was so proud of her when she put on an outfit and thought she looked cute. I also loved that she got involved in the #fatfashion community on Instagram for inspiration and acceptance. She is able to go from that external validation to being able to find that power within, which is so important.

Charlie’s journey to valuing her other talents and drawing power from them is another powerful element of the story. Several characters stress how kind Charlie is to everyone and the importance of that quality. It was wonderful to see Charlie’s kindness being celebrated in that way.

Charlie is also celebrated for her writing talent. Her English teacher, Mrs. Williams, suggests that she enter a lucrative writing contest. It was lovely to see an educator really seeing her student and nurturing her talent. (Teachers are the best). It is clear how much this means to Charlie and how celebrated it makes her feel.

Her relationship with her mother was painful to read because I just wanted Charlie to feel seen and supported by her mother. The moments where her mom opens up to Charlie and comforts her are not enough to make up for how much damage she does to Charlie’s confidence throughout the book. It is a relief that Charlie has Brian and Amelia to lift her up and tell her that her mom’s behavior is not okay.

Of course, I loved Charlie’s romantic relationship with Brian, but Charlie’s friendship with Amelia was one of my favorite elements of the story. Charlie puts Amelia on a pedastal throughout the story as someone she thinks she should be more like. It was very powerful to hear Amelia share her insecurites with Charlie.

“Because we’re equals, me and you. Imperfect equals. And you’ve seen my struggles and you’ve been there right alongside me for the ride.”

It was a stark reminder that you don’t know what someone is going through just by looking at them.

Even at nearly 30, I can learn from the messages of Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, and I am so grateful that this book is out in the world. Thank you, Crystal Maldonado.

Food Pairing: Arroz con Gandules (Rice with Pigeon Peas)

In Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, Charlie talks about her mother making her favorite Puerto Rican comfort food – rice with pigeon peas. I immediately looked up a recipe and had to try making this dish.

The rice turned out both beautiful and absolutely delicious. The sazón seasoning gave the dish a lovely and vibrant yellow color. The pigeon peas added a mild nutty flavor to the dish that was complimented nicely by the saltiness of the bacon I used (we didn’t have ham in our fridge).

The recipe we used recommends pairing this rice with pollo guisado (braised chicken stew) and tostones (fried plaintains), and I can absolutely imagine how delicious that would be. Plaintain chips are a favorite in our household, and I definitely would love to try making both of those dishes as well.

I definitely understand why Charlie loves this dish so much, and I will definitely make it again.

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