If there were a book that accurately portrayed the emotional, anxiety-ridden life of the quintessential ‘girl next door,’ that would be Crystal Maldonado’s “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega.”
If social media were true-to-life, all teen girls would be wildly perfect. Meaning perfect skin, great hair, always happy with a ton of friends, and a partner obsessed with them. But it’s not real; in real life, teens face serious issues like depression, bullying, and loneliness.
So imagine a book comes along that doesn’t depict a facade of fakeness but rather the vulnerability felt by actual kids.
Synopsis: Charlotte “Charlie” Vega is an overweight high-schooler in Connecticut. A Latina who doesn’t speak Spanish (her Puerto Rican father never taught her; her mom is Polish American), she’s full of creativity and a great student. She’s a writer who spends much of her free time constructing wonderful stories, has an active online presence, and loves hanging out with her best friend, Amelia.
However, her relationship with her mother is complicated, as they don’t see eye-to-eye on almost everything, but the focus is on Charlie’s weight.
Like most teen girls, she has a crush, but when that blows up in her face, Charlie gets together and opens up to a newfound friend, Brian Park.
The author, Crystal Maldonado, did a fantastic job on Diversity Realism (the incorporation of diversity and inclusion of diverse characters realistically and pragmatically.) Is it because Maldonado is a POC, so she understands? Probably. The lack of diversity in romance was once a topic of consternation, and maybe it still is, but in Charlie’s world: all are welcome.
The author wrote Amelia, Charlie’s best friend, as an almost antithesis character: she’s thin, sporty, very popular, and loved by all, with an almost perfect family dynamic. It’s an interesting relationship between the two, as they have genuine love and adoration for each other, but Charlie shares how in some instances, she’s envious of her best friend. At 16 (turning 17), she’s never been kissed, liked, or in a relationship, nor has she ever gone on a date, whereas Amelia has checked off every box. There’s also the love Charlie’s mom has for Amelia, almost wishing her own daughter could be like her friend: thin and popular.
The most notable relationship in “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega” is with our heroine and her anxiety. Charlie is constantly feeling a slew of very standard emotions, very typical for any teenage girl, but maybe in the age of perfectionism on social media, it’s not as comfortable out in the open.
Overall, the book was an honest look at a teenage girl. She has her flaws, but they’re normal. She’s unique and creative, and Charlie grew at her own pace. The lack of experience with the opposite sex is an embarrassment to her, but she probably shares more in common with regular teens than not. It was nice to read about a young lady experiencing ordinary life: no drugs, no sexting, nothing out of an episode of Euphoria.
It was brave of Maldonado to write a character that’s real and has a ton of vulnerabilities. As Charlie says about making a bad decision, “I just let my horrible self-doubt get the best of me.”
It’s easy to go down the teenage dirtbag route; it’s vulnerable to stroll down the ‘real life lane.’
Five stars: easy to get through, relatable, and fun from start to finish.
Follow me on Instagram: (at) marshareadsbooks