By: Jill S. Alexander
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: September 2009
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: August 18, 2009
Austin Gray is a fourteen-year-old girl growing up in rural Texas with her mother, a great best friend, Maribel, and a problem. Austin's problem is a boy named Dean Ottmer, the local bully who has his sights set on Austin. In response, the girl decides the best way to deal with her tormentor is to join FFA (Future Farmers of America) where she'll attend meetings, learn about farming and most importantly, raise some type of livestock animal. Austin decides to raise a chicken and knows that should her pet win a blue ribbon at the local county fair, she stands a good chance of winning next year's FFA Sweetheart contest. Winning the Sweetheart title would allow Austin to ride on the hood of a pick-up in the Christmas parade. Surely, she reasons, Dean will no longer bully her if she wins.
With the help of Lafitte Boudreaux, a Louisiana-born Creole (and very interesting character to boot), Austin gets her chicken and sets about learning about the animal. Dubbed Charles Dickens because of his preference for sitting on a stack of the famed author's books, the rooster works his way into Austin's heart, as well as endearing himself to just about everybody else in the small town. The story follows Austin as she deals with Charles Dickens, the FFA, her new group of friends, her old friends, the town bully, and most importantly, something both she and her mother have never come to terms with, the death of Austin's father.
The Sweetheart of Prosper County is a charming story that handles many of the problems teens face today in a realistic, yet wholesome way. Austin is respectful of her mother, although she does test her freedom from time to time. The two share a closeness that is not often found in teen novels and it is certainly refreshing. The author does a nice job of developing her characters, from the very vocal and opinionated Charles Dickens, to the town-austrizied (okay, brain fart - correct spelling???) Lafitte Boudreaux, and the charming Lewis Fortenberry, the worst Elvis impersonator or as he constantly insists, Elvis "performance artist."
This story could be classified as Christian "lite" literature because there are several references to God, church, praying, etc. The author doesn't preach; she simply injects God into the character's lives. It is non-intrusive and simply helps brings the characters to life.
Quill says: A charming story about dealing with life's ups and downs while growing up in a small town.