Just a handful of the Y.A. and middle-grade books I read while growing up in the '80s featured overweight or obese characters. Usually they weren't the protagonists. There's Blubber, of course, in which the plot-driving victim, Linda, is overweight and mocked for being so—she won't laugh at herself, which makes things worse. But that book, an indisputably great one by Judy Blume, is less about weight and more about bullying, as the book's anti-heroine, Tracy, figures out where she stands and what she will do, particularly when the bullying turns on her. I remember, also, Nothing's Fair in Fifth Grade, by Barthe DeClements, featuring the overweight Elsie Edwards, and Me and Fat Glenda, by Lila Perl. In each of those cases, the main characters don't struggle with weight themselves but instead confront their feelings and behaviors in light of an overweight classmate or friend. Then there's Paula Danziger's The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, in which the main character, Marcy Lewis, is a self-described "baby blimp" who doesn't want to undress in front of her gym class and is full of sass and personality and opinions—the book is more about her growth as a character, and, in general, the discomfort and awkwardness of being in high school, than it is about weight loss.
In a 2008 ALAN article, Catherine S. Quick addressed some of the newer entries in the realm, including K.L. Going's Fat Kid Rules the World. She explained, reflecting on a 1998 piece by Rachel Beineke that discussed the lack of realistic portrayals of overweight teens in Y.A., that in a decade, things have changed: "Obesity is now a hot topic for young adult problem novels," with some books "providing positive role models of overweight teenagers and adults who are happy, self-accepting, and have many friends." Sometimes, she continues, "the fat character does indeed lose weight, which may lead to self-acceptance and the acceptance of others. But weight loss does not always have positive results and is not always the catalyst for a change in perspective on the part of the overweight protagonist." Still, there's usually a positive ending. "Whether the character loses weight or not, the fat character moves from a position of self-loathing or doubt to self-acceptance," she writes, pointing out that "it is rare for a young adult novel to portray fat, or even a little extra weight, as beautiful—or even as an alternative standard of beauty.... Thin is still represented as the absolute ideal for body image, and the fat person, although willing to accept fat as integral to identity, undoubtedly prefers thin. Fat is still viewed a decidedly negative body type."