by Alecia Whitaker
Hardcover, 375 pages
Published January 2nd 2012
Book Source: Publisher
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.
The Queen of Kentucky has so many things going for it. First is the cover, which is one of my favorites I’ve seen come in the mail. It’s not that often we see covers in yellow- it jumps out at you. The second thing is the fun trailer and third is the author. I admire authors who take time our of their busy schedules to tweet and thank you for reading their book. The setting is the deep south which wide open spaces, dusty dirt roads,a pond and acres and acres of tobacco. I became immediately immersed in the rural roots of Ricki Jo Winstead and her best friend Luke. It’s the summer before Ricki Jo’s freshman year, her first year in high school. She’s determined to reinvent herself, ditch the two names for a sassier version- Ericka. Fortune falls on her side when the four most popular girls end up in her homeroom and the school stud muffin sits next to her in Spanish. Wolf looks like he just stepped out of an Abercrombie ad and smells like it too. He’s the guy everyone is vying for, the top of Ericka’s wish list. Buy some new clothes, make the cheer leading squad, get asked to homecoming and go through puberty then Ricky Jo might just pull off the new and improved Ericka.
A coming of age tale of a 14 year old girl, this book brought back so many memories of ninth grade year (we were still in junior high). As Ericka moves up the social chain she begins to shed some of her most important friends and values. She also gets repeatedly made fun of and mistreated by her “friends.” It was painful for me to read. She has fabulous parents,a religious upbringing and the perfect boy next door but she’s willing to give it all up for a chance at popularity. Soon a middle grade lifestyle turns much more YA- into sneaking out, lots of talk about sex, streaking, drinking, cheating on school work and belittling her once closest friend. While I can sympathize with the fact that Ericka is young and has a mission, I would have liked to have seen more development of character as the book progresses. Time and time again she is mistreated by her love interest and group of new friends. Instead of standing up for herself or rebuilding those whose names she has defamed …in her upward climb, she takes it all in stride. The ending was just what I wanted to see, but too little too late for me to sympathize fully with the the main character.
Alecia Whitaker is a very talented writer. You can tell she weaves her knowledge and love for the South into her story. Her characters were well fleshed out and vivid. I like that she handles the very hard issue of alcoholism of a parent and domestic violence as it influences the children in the home. I also really liked her references to reading the bible and the importance of sticking to your roots. I could have lived in the county with Ricky Jo before she became Ericka and Luke forever. He is everything you’d want and more. I savored the innocence and closeness of their friendship. Thank so much to Poppy for a chance to read The Queen of Kentucky.
Although she graduated from the University of Kentucky with a BFA in Theatre and a BS in Advertising, she’s always been a writer. She won the Soil Conservation Essay contest in the 4th grade, was selected as a Governor’s School for the Arts student in Creative Writing in the 10th grade, and then in college, she was a Top Ten Finalist in the US Southeast Region for a Ten Minute Playwriting competition at James Madison University.
Since then, she has been in loads of commercials, as well as on stage in a few small theatrical productions and poetry slams. She appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show numerous times, The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, and was a contestant on Deal Or No Deal.
Her personal essays have been published in the anthology Blink: Fiction in the Blink of an Eye and several times in Underwired Magazine. She co-wrote the popular one act play Becoming Woman with a grant from The Kentucky Foundation for Women. The Queen of Kentucky is her first novel and proudest artistic accomplishment.
Now living in New York City with her husband and son, she is amused at how often her big imagination takes her back to a simpler life in Kentucky.
Learn more about Alecia on her website.