UMass Digital Content Editor Crystal Maldonado Debuts Body Positive, Coming-of-Age Young Adult Novel: ‘Fat Chance, Charlie Vega’

Crystal Maldonado
Crystal Maldonado

Body positivity is at the heart of Crystal Maldonado’s debut, coming-of-age young adult novel “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega,” a book that explores what it means to grow up female, fat and Puerto Rican.

“In many ways, Charlie’s story is a heavily fictionalized version of my own,” says Maldonado, who wrote the book, published by Holiday House in New York, about a 16-year-old navigating love for others and herself over the course of two years. “For better or worse, her story feels deeply personal—her relationship with her body, her struggles with her mom, her joy, her love story, and her growth. The book feels like it came to me in the whole ‘write what you know’ kind of way.”

Maldonado, who works in the Office of News and Media Relations, says “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega” was her chance to help others feel seen in ways she felt there were gaps growing up, particularly with embracing one’s self for who they are.

“I’m deeply invested in trying to do my part to help make people feel represented, and that’s really what this was,” she explains. “I didn’t feel like I saw enough complex, nuanced depictions of fat girls and wanted to do what I could to help change that.”

As someone who grew up as a fat child and teenager, Maldonado notes she came face-to-face with criticism, shame, and ridicule from her peers and in the media and constantly struggled with her self-image. Over time, she notes, she learned to come to terms with who she was and to celebrate what makes her, her. This mindset has also helped her traverse the landscape of bodily expectations as an adult.

“Regardless of size, I think the pressure to be thin and to diet is put onto young girls very early in their lives and it honestly never ends,” she asserts. “I’ve spent a long time unlearning all of the toxic ways in which our society tells women that they need to be smaller.”

Since its debut in February 2021, “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega” has been highly praised by People en Español, Buzzfeed, NBC Latino, and WBUR, as well as featured alongside Barack Obama’s newest book as a Cosmopolitan “Best New Book of Winter 2020.” Kirkus Reviews gave the book a coveted starred review, writing, “Charlie's struggles are authentic and raw while Maldonado's bright prose makes for a page-turner … An overdue and welcome ingénue.”

Moving forward, Maldonado says she plans to continue to write on issues that matter to her, addressing problems that many of us face but sometimes feel alone when finding a solution. 

“I hope to keep writing stories that celebrate and validate identities and experiences we don’t always get to see in mainstream books, TV and movies,” she says. “To see yourself reflected back at you is the greatest gift. As much as I want my stories to bring people joy, I also hope they make readers feel like they matter — because they do.”

Learn more about “Fat Chance, Charlie Vega” and Maldonado’s work at crystalwrote.com.