Friday, April 20, 2012

The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker

The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker is, come to think of it. oddly similar to Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have (two posts below this one) . . .

Ricki Jo, small-town Kentucky girl, decides to revamp her image for high school. She's something of a new girl, since she's attended the K-8 parochial school, and she's determined to be cool and popular at the public high school. She decides to go by "Ericka" instead of "Ricki Jo," tries out for cheerleading instead of marching band, and works really hard to be accepted by the coolest girls in her class. It seems like she's succeeding . . . but there's a cost: she may lose her best friend Luke, who's going through a lot of difficulties in his own life. Is it worth it?

Author Alecia Whitaker grew up in Cynthiana, and my first thought was, "I know where that is!" So, the descriptions of Kentucky farmland, tobacco farming, and small-town life are genuine, informed by the author's own experiences . . . and it shows. It made me a little homesick for the Bluegrass, to tell the truth. I was also impressed with the characterization in this novel. Ricki Jo manages to seem like a real teen, with real issues, and sometimes I wanted to shake her for the choices she was making, but she's also really likeable. The girls she befriends are Mean Girls in a sense, but they're not mean all the time, nor are they completely stereotypical (though they're not entirely distinct; I did have some trouble remembering which one was which at times). Ricki Jo's crush, the handsome star athlete, was similarly nuanced -- and while best friend Luke did seem to verge on too much perfection, he did have the occasional flaw that made him seem a little more real. The pacing of the story had its ups and downs, but it kept me reading all the way through. I'd recommend this read to fans of realistic YA fiction, and I look forward to more from this debut author.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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