Austin Gray doesn’t have a lot of things at the beginning of The Sweetheart of Prosper County (2009) by Jill S. Alexander (find it on Bookshop). She doesn’t have a blue-ribbon-winning sow. She doesn’t have a deer hunting license, or a signature wave. And she definitely doesn’t have a mound of cleavage.
What Austin does have is a plan.
Austin is almost as tired of waiting for someone else to pull her into the annual Christmas parade as she is of being the butt of Dean Ottmer’s jokes and Austin has a surefire way to fix both her problems: become a hood ornament/Sweetheart in the No-Jesus Christmas Parade.
The plan is pretty simple: join Future Farmers of America, raise a blue-ribbon-winning animal, learn to hunt or fish, and say hello to her new role as a member of the confident, parade royalty that are able to shrug off Dean Ottmer’s bullying and taunts. Easy as pie with a little help from her best friend and her momma.
Things soon get complicated (and exciting) when Austin acquires a chicken named Charles Dickens and befriends the FFA crowd. Before she knows it, what had started as a mission for Austin becomes a lifestyle as her dream of becoming the sweetheart of Prosper County forces Austin and her momma to rethink how they deal with little things like annoying neighbors and bigger things like the death of Austin’s father years before.
As a New York City native, reading about Austin’s world was almost like reading about another country. In the beginning I wasn’t sure what to expect. But this book was also disarming in the best possible way. Austin is an open-minded and mellow (except when it comes to Dean Ottmer) character and the book absorbs those qualities.
The book mentions religion a lot (one of the awesome secondary characters is an Elvis impersonator with an Evangelical side) but not in a self-important or righteous way–it’s just a part of who these people are. And, really, that’s how most things should be treated in a book be it cultural, religious or otherwise.
Alexander is a Texas native and she adds a lot of that flavor to The Sweetheart of Prosper County. Readers will be able to hear the twang and feel that Texan charm in Austin’s narration and the story itself. The plot is well-paced and delightfully fun while still having some weight to it.
Possible Pairings: Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley, Miss Smithers by Susan Juby, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee