The Queen of Kentucky
Published January 2, 2012
Reviewed by Rachael
Fourteen-year-old Kentucky girl Ricki Jo Winstead, who would prefer to be called Ericka, thank you very much, is eager to shed her farmer’s daughter roots and become part of the popular crowd at her small town high school. She trades her Bible for Seventeen magazine, buys new “sophisticated” clothes and somehow manages to secure a tenuous spot at the cool kids table. She’s on top of the world, even though her best friend and the boy next door Luke says he misses “plain old Ricki Jo.”Caught between being a country girl and wannabe country club girl, Ricki Jo begins to forget who she truly is: someone who doesn’t care what people think and who wouldn’t let a good-looking guy walk all over her. It takes a serious incident out on Luke’s farm for Ricki Jo to realize that being a true friend is more important than being popular.
Okay, so “The Queen of Kentucky” caught me way off guard. I thought it was going to be a cute, pretty cut and dry teen romance but that was definitely not the case. While I found the main character slightly immature (which I realize is to be expected of a freshman in high school) it was her naivety that really made this a tough read for me. Maybe because it was all too reminiscent of my own adolescence and thus, frustrating. Ricki Jo (or Ericka as she attempts to be called once joining the local public high school) is legit dealing with some tough stuff along side her best friend Luke. You’d think this would cause her to grow up a bit faster, but really only Luke makes that leap and you spend the entire book willing her to catch up. Much like I’m sure happened in my own life as I was trudging my way through high school to the on-looker waiting for me to grow up.
The portrait of small town teenage girls (probably all teenage girls, but since I’m from a small town I’ll go with that) is dead-on and is every bit as frustrating to read as it was to live. Not necessarily saying that in a negative way; Whitaker has a pulse on these kids that makes them so real, you can smell Wolfe’s Abercrombie cologne oozing out of the pages, and that takes talent. It deals with tough issues delicately and the religious undertones are real, refreshing, and not so over-the-top as to alienate non-Catholic readers (while the main character and her family are Catholic, this is not a major factor in the book, but naturally integrated into the lives of the characters…very well done.) The description includes the phrase, “She trades her Bible for Seventeen magazine” but I don’t feel like that’s super accurate…Ricki Jo doesn’t abandon her faith, but she’s your average teenage girl dealing with life and learning to see the world past her front porch steps.
Overall, I have to say I enjoyed this read even though it took me quite a while to get through which was a combination of getting off to a slow start and just life getting busy for a bit. I’m glad I stuck it out til the end and may or may not have woken up at 4am randomly and finished the half of the book that I had left to read 😉