December 16, 2011

Retro Friday: The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander

At First Sight: Tired of being the butt of the town's bully's jokes, Austin Gray latches onto a solution to her troubles: to become a Sweetheart and ride in the No-Jesus Christmas Parade. This, of course, will require quite a bit of work, starting with getting a chicken for a Christmas gift, entering it at the county fair and joining the Future Farmers of America's chapter at her school, who pick their own Sweetheart for the parade and are her best chance of getting a spot.

With the reluctant support of her mother Jeannie and her best friend Maribel, Austin soon finds herself raising a chicken known as Charles Dickens and becomes friends with Sundi Knutt, the current sweetheart who is funny and outgoing and seems to love every body... and with Josh, an FFA member and friend of Sundi's who takes an interest in Austin and seems to understand that she sometimes doesn't like to talk about certain things.

And even if things don't always run off smoothly, the year Austin spends trying to become a Sweetheart brings a strange mix of blessings into her life in the form of a little more confidence, a renewed connection to her best friend, the friendship and advice on an evangelical Elvis performance artist named Lewis, and a bit of closure for herself and her mom, as they are finally able to talk about what happened on a Christmas Eve, many years before, when her dad died. 

Second Glance: I was quite surprised by how much I loved The Sweetheart of Prosper County because, to start with, it covers quite a bit of time for such a short book and it doesn't really feel rushed or anything like that.

I really liked Austin and she sounded quite real, she's a good girl who sometimes bends the truth a little, chaffing at the over-protectiveness of her mom but still very much wanting to make her proud. And it was fun to see her interact with the people around her, how she grows to appreciate Sundi -whom she and Maribel call Marshmallow Girl because she's big and soft and fluffy - and how she doesn't get jealous that Sundi and Josh as such good friends. And how she realizes that you can grow up to be someone very different from your best friend but still remain as close as ever.

I loved the whole FFA spin of things, and Charles Dickens made for one fun character, as did Lewis, I really liked him. Actually, I think I liked all the main characters in this book. Plus, there is a bit of social commentary regarding town's politics and even discrimination without it being shoved in your face or exaggerated, I liked it. I wasn't entirely happy with how the bully was handled but it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book.

Bottom Line: The Sweetheart of Prosper County is a fun, quick read with more substance than I first imagined. It's full of likable characters and fun situations and I found myself really rooting for Austin, who was flawed but good. And I would say that, just as Charles Dickens, this book is a winner.

Favorite Scene:
...I had played with marshmallows - pressing one onto the end of each finger, mashing them down just to watch them spring back up. They were soft but though, resilient. No matter the pressure or poking, they almost always returned to their original shape.

For me, it was a rock star moment. Sundi Knutt - the marshmallow girl, the sweetheart - in the weepy throws of despair pounding my archenemy into silence. But it was her moment, not mine. Sundi stood up; I didn't.

We left the fairgrounds, but I learned something from Sundi that being a sweetheart in the no-Jesus parade couldn't provide. Sundi traveled light; she didn't tote around a load of loss. She could throw away or throw down. Either way, she put stuff behind her. She didn't get her confidence from a prize lamb, a mound of cleavage, or a hood ride in the no-Jesus parade. Her confidence came from facing the losses and the losers, not being a hood ornament. That's the strength of a marshmallow sweetheart.
Retro FridayRetro Friday is a weekly meme hosted at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcom

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