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The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker

Ricki Jo is starting high school, and something’s got to change, starting with the name. How can she be the new and improved version of herself if she’s still going by Ricki Jo? She doesn’t want everyone to think she’s just some country bumpkin; she wants to be cool and sophisticated—to be called Ericka. Armed with the latest teen magazines, some seriously cute new clothes from the mall, and a fearless attitude, Ricki Jo is determined to make things work in her favor. But as the year progresses, things start to change, and not necessarily for the better. Where Ricki Jo didn’t really care about what others thought and wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself, Ericka is completely self conscious and lets herself be subjected to the whims of Wolf, the class bad boy. With help from a few friends, both old and new, Ricki Jo will learn that it means to be a true friend while also staying true to yourself.

The Queen of Kentucky is a lovable story that tackles the age-old theme of coming of age in a fresh and engaging way. What drew me first into the story was by far Ricki Jo’s voice; it’s so distinctive, vivid, and strong that it’s hard not to care about her. The reader gets to see everything through Ricki Jo’s eager eyes, which is honestly a real treat since Ricki Jo is such a humorous, unique, and all around lovable protagonist. Whitaker does a good job of balancing the plot between slightly more frivolous, though always entertaining, dramas and real tension at home or between friends. The plot as a whole is entirely satisfying, although I would have liked the ending to be a little less open ended. In all, I found The Queen of Kentucky to be a wholly enjoyable and entertaining read with strong writing, characters, and voice, and I greatly look forward to whatever Whitaker puts out next!

The Queen of Kentucky will be enjoyed by readers who also liked Paradise by Jill M. Alexander, Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern, and Alive and Well in Prague, New York by Daphne Grab.

Rating: 4.0

Review copy from publisher Little, Brown

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