The Queen of Kentucky – Alecia Whitaker
Like The Dystopian, The Coming of Age novel has been done and done and done again.
For better or for worse, for the good, the bad and the ugly, teenage drama has been felt through paper pages for centuries.
By way of pure biology, we’re programmed to go socially and emotionally haywire about the time that we’re, unfortunately, supposed to be getting our acts together. Because of this, YA Fiction, even without any of the intensely darker stuff of much contemporary fiction (violence, substances, sexual orientation, sexual exploration, plain old sex and myriad other “deep” things), tends to lend itself, naturally, to being portrayed as entertainment.
See, ok, it turns out, while everyone loved a beautiful Prom Queen or the adorably and driven over achiever who gets into Harvard, there is just a little bit more to high school than being pretty and acing tests.
Right? I was, like, totally shocked, too, when I found that out! You’re definitely not alone.
Ah, well, yeah, see, it turns out, that actually, most YA fiction (contemporary, that is…which, by the way, hey, mom! “Contemporary YA fiction” usually means “YA sans vampires or werewolves”) is about exactly that: shattering the dominant adolescent paradigm.
You all are rolling your eyes, yelling to me that you already knew all of this.
Secret time: I did, too.
Still, it doesn’t make it any less exciting to read about other’s awkward teen trials and tribulation, not matter how fictional.
This is basically where I stand with the adorable, Ricki Jo, of the, if not quite original or much in the way of unpredictable, The Queen of Kentucky.
That last remark sort of seems like a backhanded compliment, rereading it, but it’s not really meant to be. I think, more than coming out as just another rehashed teen tale to be tossed in along with the masses of similar stories that predate it, the book has quite a few unique characteristics going for it that made it a little bit different.
Again, the plot-line, itself, is familiar teen book territory.
Pretty little Rickie Jo, our freshman heroine, is the classic Cinderella who bites off more than she can chew.
She gears up for teen life, with all of its alleged bells and whistles, at the town high school after what seems like an eternity being raised in the local private Catholic locale.
For Ricki Jo, (who would prefer to be refered to as Ericka, if you please, now that she’s hit the big time), the sky is the limit in terms of the potential awesomeness that awaits. She starts her freshman year with as clean a slate as she’ll get in small town Kentucky, hoping to carve out the ultimate teen chickie experience.
Of course, as the formula goes, part of this plan sails and some of it sinks, hard. With some of the darker “contemporary” (as mentioned above) topics woven into a classic setup, garnished with a lovely little tribute to my Sweet Southeast, the book has enough sugar and spice and everything fun to keep a reader reading.
Now that I’ve waxed poetic for fifty some-odd pages, (sheesh, hush me up, already!) The Queen of Kentucky was likable, sweet and fun if not totally earth-shatteringly new. Though there were massively predictable parts, like the overall storyline, I don’t think that the macroscopic element of surprise (or lack thereof) was the focus of this book. The smaller details, the tough relationship questions and the constant definition of self were the true focuses, here and their manifestations were done with clarity and honesty.
Like I stated at the beginning, we all know everything about the time-tested mold of a coming of age story; it’s what the writer chooses to do with it that presents the actual substance to any given template.
Alecia Whitaker did a lovely job tapping into teen tradition and, as far as rite-of-passage ditties go, this one was a keeper.