This summer Penumbra Online hosted a Book Club to help promote our summer edition. We decided to select a book that celebrated our summer series theme of self-love. We chose a book that has self-love and all of its complexities at the center of it, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega (2021) by Crystal Maldonado. The contemporary YA novel is about Charlie Vega a high schooler who is a hopeless romantic. The only problem? She has never been in love. All of that changes when she starts her first budding romance. The novel intricately encapsulates the ache of first love and heartbreak so well that it feels familiar to the reader. While on the surface the novel sounds like a simple YA romance, the novel is much more complex and poignant. It delves into much deeper themes such as self-love, grief, body positivity, and what it means to be a mixed race Latina. Maldonado does an excellent job balancing the lightheartedness of the YA genre with the importance of the topics she covers. While never completely abandoning the YA genre Maldonado dives into the realities of what it means to be a modern day teenager with all of its complexities.
When I first picked up Fat Chance, Charlie Vega I expected a lighthearted, fun, and easy book and while it certainly is all of those things the story is so much more. The novel captures the feeling of youth without the rose colored façade of youth that most YA novels craft. Maldonado’s heroine, Charlie Vega is a flawed and fleshed out character. Charlie carries pain from the loss of her father and struggles with being constantly compared to her best friend Amelia. Charlie’s character is authentic because the truth is most people by the time they reach Charlie’s age have faced hardships. Teenagers are not exempt from pain in fact most the weight of their pain everyday. Perhaps the most heartbreaking and realistic aspect of the novel is Charlie’s relationship with her mother. Charlie and her mother are incomprehensibly different and without her father to bridge the gap between them they struggle to connect. The novel does not shy away and captures both Charlie and her mother having low moments with each other. While the reader is often sympathetic with Charlie her mother is never pigeonholed into the villain role either. In the end, their relationship is not tied up neatly with a bow but it makes the novel feel more authentic. By subverting the genre's tropes Maldonado produces a realistic YA novel.
Maldonado also sets her novel apart with the use of realistic representation. With Charlie, Maldonado displays the struggle to find acceptance. Charlie is a mixed race Latina straddling two worlds and like many teenagers she struggles to find her footing in either world. Her disconnect with her mother over her mother’s obsession with diets, has her feeling uncomfortable in her own home. Yet, she has lost her relationship with her father’s family after his death and as a result she lost touch with her cultural roots. Charlie’s unease in her own family is juxtaposed with Amelia’s comfortability in any situation. While Amelia may have an air of ease in any environment she also faces realistic struggles as a Black Queer teenager. Charlie and Amelia’s different reactions to similar situations display the fact that despite different outlooks, acknowledging that we all struggle can connect people. Tangible and well represented characters are just one of the many reasons to read Fat Chance, Charlie Vega.
With witty dialogue, layered characters, and important themes Maldonado’s novel is a YA novel that stands out. The novel is a fun escape with layers of importance that sneak up on the reader the further you get into the story. If you want a novel that is a relaxing read without being superficial Maldonado’s Fat Chance, Charlie Vega is the perfect read for you. Join Charlie Vega as she has her first chance to fall in love and read Maldonado’s exciting novel.
If you are interested in Book Club, Penumbra Online is hosting a Fall Book Club starting in October. To learn more about Book Club click on our Clubs and Recommendations page.