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Exclusive: Cover Reveal and Excerpt for Body Positive YA Romcom Big Boned

Cropped Big Boned book cover featuring an illustration of the protagonist, Lori.

Happy February! The season of love is officially upon us! And one of my favorite ways to get into the Valentine’s Day mood is by reading a cute, wholesome romcom full of heart and the most endearing hijinks. And on the YA side of things, Big Boned is a novel you’re sure to fall in love with.

Perfect for fans of Leah on the Offbeat and Dumplin’, Big Boned is a body positive romance about Lori, an art student who struggles fitting in at her new schooluntil she catches the eye of hunky, dreamboat jock Jake. And we’ve got the reveal of the beautiful cover art for you right here!

Exclusive cover reveal for Big Boned by Jo Watson

(Credit: Wattpad Books)

All absolutely adorable, right? Well, readers can rejoice because The Mary Sue is also happy to present an exclusive excerpt from Big Boned for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy, and be sure to add this title to your to-be-read list!

Chapter 1
Leonardo da Vinci once said that when you looked at your work in a mirror and saw it reversed, it would look like some other painter’s work, and then you’d be a better judge of its faults.

I stood, feet anchored to the ground like they were sprouting roots into the carpet beneath me, and glared at the mirror in front of me. It glared back. Flat, shiny, and unrelenting. So utterly bloody unrelenting that I wanted to toss something at it just to break its icy stare. Shatter it, like it was so fond of shattering me.

When I couldn’t take it a second longer, I turned my back on the thing, pulled yet another T-shirt off and tossed it to the floor. My previous school was easy; I’d wake up each morning and slip on our black and white uniform, no mirror needed. But everything was different now, and it wasn’t just the lack of a school uniform that made it that way. In fact, it couldn’t be more different if my mother had decided to uproot the family and move us to one of Jupiter’s far-flung moons.

I’m a city girl. Born and bred. And up until seven days ago, we’d lived in a penthouse in one of Johannesburg’s cool, newly renovated downtown areas. My school, the Art School, where I was studying fine art, was only a few blocks away. After class, my friends and I would walk the streets lined with coffee shops, art galleries, and vintage clothing and record stores, and hang out in our favorite place, the smoky, laid back jazz café, Maggie’s.

At night, I’d sit at my window and watch the city below spring to life. I loved listening to the frantic symphony of the city. A soundscape of honking taxis, shrieking police sirens, rushing, shouting, pushing people. Everything so alive. Everything pounding, blaring, screaming, and growling at you.

I’d gaze at the brightly colored lights of the Nelson Mandela Bridge that took you right into the thumping heart of the city. Johannesburg. Joburg. Jozi. It’s called many things. But my favorite name is its isiZulu one, Egoli, Place of Gold. Which is exactly what it is when the sun dips down and the city lights flicker on, casting that warm, molten glow across the tops and sides of the skyscrapers.
Gold’s my favorite color, by the way. But there’s no gold here. Looking out of my bedroom window all I could see now was blue, the massive sea stretching to the horizon, reaching up into a never-ending cloudless sky. An infinity of it.

Blue . . . it’s such a simple color, really. Mix some green, mix some yellow, and bingo. Obvious.
Gold, however, well, that’s another story. It’s complex. Layered. Much harder to create, and it’s also so much more than just a color. Gold contains a certain magic, an extravagance, a mystique.
I tried to sigh but the breath got caught in my esophagus. I turned my back on the window now too. I’ve never liked the sea. Too much water. Too much sand. Besides, I’m not exactly a bikini kinda gal. I haven’t been beach-body ready since, well, forever. How ironic then that I’ve landed here, in the middle of bikini-Barbie, thigh-chafing hell.

Clifton, Cape Town. A place where you’re either wearing active wear because you’ve just left your early morning gym sesh¬—green smoothie in hand—or you’re in swimwear ’cause you’re headed to the beach, green smoothie in hand. And don’t even get me started on what it’s like when the sun goes down. Let’s just say you won’t find a moody jazz club on these streets. It’s more upscale eateries, shucked oysters and cham-bloody-pagne.

Currently, I’m staging a silent protest against my mother for uprooting my life and dragging me here. But what’s new? My mother and I have been locked in a kind of protest for the last four years now.
I do, however, understand why we came here. I just can’t help feeling that I wasn’t consulted. Which I wasn’t. The closest thing to a consultation came when she’d walked into my bedroom three weeks ago and declared, We’re moving to Cape Town. She might as well have detonated an atomic bomb, that’s how it felt as I sat on my bed and saw my entire life explode into a million pieces.

We came here for my brother, Zac. I’m not blaming him for this, how could I—I love him more than I can probably describe. He’s nine. He’s also specially abled, as my mother prefers to say. She enjoys upbeat euphemisms, but between you and me, he’s on the autism spectrum.

Over the last few years, his symptoms had gotten worse, until his school had finally “suggested” that he attend a facility “better aligned with his unique needs.” (Everyone likes euphemisms, it seems.) So, after a quick google search by my mother, the best assisted learning school in the country was located, and now here we are. Sunny, beachy, active wear central—with green smoothie in hand.

“Crap!” I pulled yet another outfit off and tossed it to the floor, adding to the massive patchwork of clothes that lay twisted at my feet. My floor was starting to look like a Hannah Höch artwork, my favorite collage artist, and I swear, if you looked hard enough, you could see a galloping horse desperately trying to break free of the tangled mess.

But nothing I owned seemed right. And you need to wear the right thing on your first day. Something that gives off the vibe that you didn’t try too hard, but that you tried just hard enough.

“Hurry.” My mother’s voice raced up the stairs and burst into my room like an unwanted guest.

I’d already told her she didn’t need to take me to school—I had my own car—but she was insistent.

“I’m going to be late for my meeting!” She sounded rushed and angry, which had been her general vibe for a while now, certainly since that fateful day four years ago—the day the doves cried, as I’ve come to call it in my head.

“Late, late, late,” my brother echoed. Zac often repeats words. I try not to swear in front of him, not since the unfortunate crap, crap, crap incident in class.

I forced myself to face the mirror again. On some days, I can look at myself for longer than a few seconds; today was not one of those days. My pale, flabby thighs that touched, my stomach that oozed over the top of my very unsexy panties, and worse, my “hellos and good-byes”—those flappy bits of fat on your arms that jiggle when you wave at people. I try not to wave.

“Aaargh.” I covered my face and turned away from the evil thing again. I’ve long suspected that mirrors were invented by some gorgeous, stick-thin, yet completely sinister, creature for the sole purpose of tormenting girls like me.

I reached for the nearest outfit I could find. My most comfortable pair of worn jeans and a cute, vintage button-up blouse I’d found at a little second-hand shop with the boys—my BFFs—Andile and Guy. At art school there were four distinct groups: art kids, drama kids, music kids, and dance kids.

For some reason, I’d made friends with the ballet guys pretty early on. We’d just found each other, like attracting magnets, and since then we’d moved around school like a little impenetrable team. I missed them so much . . . and we’d only been separated for seven days.

I tugged my jeans on. They felt a little tighter than usual, probably from all the stress eating I’d been doing lately, carbs really are from the devil (perhaps also invented by the same person who gave us mirrors?). I pulled them up, trying to cover the muffin top, but not pulling them so high that I was now sporting a gigantic camel toe. The black, collared blouse also felt like it was straining across my bust. I adjusted my bra, trying to flatten the ladies, but clearly they were also protesting today, because they weren’t going anywhere.

And then there was my hair, the massive mop of curls that I’d long given up on trying to wrangle with a straightener.

I slipped a pair of comfy, old sneakers on and gave myself an extra spray of deo; it was hot today, and the last thing I needed was to be the smelly girl too.

I inspected myself. I looked fine. Sort of. I looked like me, like I always did. But today I wasn’t so sure how well Me was going to go down at my new school.

Bay Water High, where surfing and bodyboarding were extracurricular activities because the school backed onto the beach. I’d gone to the school’s Facebook page a few days ago and scoured their photos, hoping to find someone, anyone, who looked vaguely like me. But nothing.

Because it seemed that being gorgeous and thigh-gap thin were prerequisites for being a student at BWH. I was not gorgeous. My hair was red and frizzy. My skin erred on the pasty, pale side, with a smattering of cellulite for added texture, and the only gap I had was the one between my front teeth.

She’s just big boned, I’d once overheard my mom say to another mother. It’s probably puppy fat, she’ll grow out of it, the other mother had offered up with a look that resembled pity, as if thinking, Thank heavens she’s not mine.

But I was seventeen now, turning eighteen in two months, and I wasn’t growing out of it. If anything, I was growing into it more than ever. My phone gave a sudden beep and I looked down at it. A message from my dad lit up the screen and my stomach dropped.

DAD: Good luck on your first day. Thinking of you!
I stared at the message and then left my dad on Read.

“Loooooriiii!” My mother’s shrill voice came at me again, like a sharp-beaked bird dive-bombing you because you stumbled upon its nest.

Oh, that’s the other thing you should know about me—my name is Lori Patty Palmer. Of course, when the elementary school bullies got wind of my middle name, which I got courtesy of my great aunt Patty, they had a field day with it.

Move out the way, here comes Lori Fatty Palmer. I could still hear their taunts. My old therapist, Dr. Finkelstein—whose name I always thought conjured up images of impassioned, academic debates in smoky, wood-paneled rooms¬—said that much of my anxiety stems from the bullying. From the time I’d had food thrown in my face, the time someone wrote “Kill yourself fat bitch” on my locker, and of course, there was the pool . . .

I took a deep breath; just thinking about the pool was making my insides quiver. I’d been so relieved when all of that was over and I’d gone to art school, but now, today, I felt like that person all over again.
Lori Fatty Palmer.

I inhaled deeply and then tried to breathe out all the negativity, like that meditation app I’d downloaded told me to. Breathe in positivity, breath out negativity. Or was it the other way around?

Maybe this wouldn’t be as bad as I thought. Maybe I was just projecting my own fears and anxieties onto the situation. Maybe I would love it at BWH. Maybe everything would be okay. Maybe.

I took another deep breath and the buttons on my blouse strained. (Note to self, no deep breathing today for fear that buttons might pop open.) I walked out of my room, grabbing my pill as I went and throwing it back with a sip of now-cold coffee. I grimaced at the taste. Prozac I’ve never gotten used to that melt-in-your mouth, spearmint flavor even though I’ve been taking it for years. Why even bother with a flavor? It’s not like the taste can disguise what it really is.

Chapter 2
I arrived at BWH and surveyed my surroundings.
Gorgeous girls with oversized beverages in hand walked past me, sucking on long straws. These were probably the same girls who made those blue, smoothie bowls for breakfast with those cute, star-shaped cutouts of dragon fruit.

Boys with rippling muscles also walked past, oversized beverages in one hand, protein bars in the other. And they all seemed so perky. Smiles, bright eyes, and bushy tails, and I wasn’t even inside the building yet. I was walking past a row of perfectly polished SUVs that had uniformly ramped the pavement to drop off the kids. Moms in active wear, gossiping to each other in hushed tones. Dads in suits, looking busy and talking on their phones as they climbed out of their overcompensating midlife crisis Maseratis—Kinda like my own dad, I guess. I’d made my mother drop me off a block away from school. I didn’t need her causing a spectacle, adding to the overall nail-biting stress of this day.

I pulled the finger from my lips, thrust my head into the air, and tried to look as unfazed as humanly possible. Cool, calm, confident. Breathing in negativity, breathing out positivity, looking for silver linings . . . or something like that. I made my way past the cars and found myself at the school entrance, and just as I’d suspected, the cool kids were all standing outside waiting, talking, laughing. Have you noticed how they always seem to move in packs? Like little meerkats. Hyenas. Swarms of bees. I lowered my head again and resisted the urge to bite my cuticle.

A steep flight of stairs rose up in front of me, and I sighed. My body and stairs aren’t exactly friends, and the last thing I needed was to be out of breath when I reached the top. That would draw even more attention to me, and I hated attention. At that moment, a girl and a guy walked past me, arm in arm, laughing, looking like a pair of Insta models and taking the stairs two at a time #couplegoals.

Despite my previous silver lining–laced thoughts, I was beginning to get the distinct impression that I wasn’t going to like it here, nor was I going to fit in. I hoped this was going to be worth it. But judging by my brother’s first day at school yesterday, it was unlikely. As my mom and I had been leaving the school, he’d burst out of the classroom, thrown himself onto the gate, and tried to climb over it while screaming at the top of his lungs. Let’s hope day two would be better.

I made it to the top of the stairs, impressed that my breathing hadn’t even kicked up a notch—probably due to all the nervous adrenaline surging through my veins.

“Hey!” someone called, but I didn’t look up. Surely they weren’t talking to me?

But when a foot entered my field of vision¬, and a body blocked my path to the entrance, I was forced to look up.

Small, cut-off denim shorts. White crop top, exposed flat stomach. Dewy complexion, impossibly long, blond hair. Conditioner-commercial hair.

“Hey, are you the new girl?” conditioner commercial asked, her blue eyes and hair actually glinting in the morning light.

“Uh . . . yes. Lori,” I stuttered, averting my gaze.

“Hi! I’m Amber Long-Innes, and this is Teagan.” She sounded so perky, as if she was high on the sunbeams themselves.

I looked from her to Teagan, who in contrast to Amber was olive-skinned and dark-eyed, with the poutiest lips I’d ever seen. Then her lips parted, and she smiled at me. I was almost knocked off my feet, it was so big and luminous.

Okay, okay. I have a confession to make. A big one. As much as I like to mentally slag off girls like this, silently judge and mock, I’m jealous as hell of them. There, I said it! Not to mention truly and utterly intimidated. My acerbic, inner sarcasm is just a defense for my outward fears and insecurities. Dr. Finkelstein once explained that defense mechanisms were essential to survival, that many creatures had them. Well, at least I wasn’t a Malaysian exploding ant.

“I’m president of the BWH SRC,” Amber chirped.

“SRC?” I was unfamiliar with this acronym.

“Student Representative Council,” she cooed.

“And I’m VP,” Teagan added.

“My portfolio is HOSS,” Amber continued, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her perfectly shaped ear. She reminded me of Goldilocks, except you could see she didn’t eat bowls of porridge.

“And mine’s PPC,” Teagan jumped in. They talked as if they’d rehearsed this speech many times before, expertly jumping from line to line, like actors on a stage.

“HOSS and PPC?” I asked, when it looked like they’d finally finished the scene.

“Head of School Spirit and Primary Peer Counselor,” Amber qualified.

I’d suspected this school was overflowing with teen spirit. Still, I hadn’t expected “Spirit” to be an actual thing. The only teen spirit I had was that old Nirvana vinyl that I’d found in a vintage store in Joburg.
“It’s our job to show new students around and introduce them to the school.”

“Introduce?” I looked into Amber’s ridiculously clear blue eyes as panic slid a cold finger down my spine. I tried to push the panic down. I’ve learned that showing the enemy how you really feel is not a good idea. They can, and will, prey on it.

But then Teagan did something unexpected, she pulled me into a hug. “Welcome to BWH, Lori.”

“Uh . . . thanks!” I was surprised by what seemed like a genuine show of friendliness. Maybe I’d judged everyone here too soon? Maybe.

“Great! We’ll do the introduction in assembly first period,” Amber said casually, and then they both turned, flipped their hair at the same time (had they rehearsed this move too?) and walked away. I stood there, unable to move, as if the rubber soles of my shoes had melted into the hot concrete. Which was conceivable, since it was scorching today.

“Aren’t you coming?” Amber turned, tilting her head and looking at me from a different angle. I wondered what she was probably thinking, nah, still fat from this angle. I sucked my stomach in quickly in an attempt to appear more streamlined.

“Uh . . . I . . .” Dammit. I exhaled when I realized that the stomach-sucking had caused my voice to rise two unnatural-sounding octaves.

“Suuuure.” I tried to sound casual even though every cell, nerve, fiber, and muscle in my body wanted to turn around and run, run, run!

Big Boned is now available for preorder everywhere!

(images: Wattpad Books)

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Larissa Irankunda (she/her) is an East African star child and writer based in Brooklyn. Fantasy and Science-Fiction are her first loves, and her writing focuses on amplifying diversity and inclusion in storytelling. You are most likely to find her nose-deep in a good book, or professing her love for Danny Devito and Jeff Goldblum on the interwebs.