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A book that can be shared with women of all ages: The Sweetheart of Prosper County

Thumbnail image for jillalexandersweetheartbook.jpgI remember being 15. It was really hard! Austin Gray, the narrator and main character of The Sweetheart of Prosper County is a delight to get to know. It's about the journey she goes on trying to become the Sweetheart of the FFA. Austin prospers in Prosper!

This is a mature young adult book and will take you back to the feelings and thoughts you had at fifteen. It definitely reminded me of my high school in Justin, Texas where the FFA is huge! I remember those "Rodeo Naked" T-shirts the FFA kids used to wear! The Future Farmers of America group is a tough hardworking crowd with a lot of heart.

Austin wants to be a part of that group. Don't you remember how many cliques there are in high school? You have the preps, nerds, cheerleaders, athletes, theatre, band kids, and then the Future Farmers of America. Austin is determined to be the hood ornament on the no-Jesus Christmas parade by becoming the FFA Sweetheart.

I also thought of the movie, Sixteen Candles and E.B. White's Charlotte's Web because both are about the journey into young womanhood. At fifteen, we're trying to figure out who we are. This is the age where hormones kick in and friends who are bad influences can make or break you. Without good parent supervision and friend support we might have sunk at the lake grabbling for catfish.

Often, the friends we had when we were fifteen are still our dear friends today because we went through those awful changes of puberty together. Reading this book you will be reminded of that best friend you had before you could drive, the first boy you had a crush on, and how hard it was to "fit in" in high school. These were not easy times. We either toilet papered houses or cleaned up the toilet paper on our houses. I thought it was hilarious when Austin's mom got up early to take the toilet paper down with a power hose before Dean, the bully, could admire his work.

And where would we be without animals? Animals give us such unconditional love and can sense our fear. Charles Dickens, the rooster, was full of spunk just like Austin! He was the mascot of The Sweetheart of Prosper County. Austin asks for Charles Dickens for Christmas and she hopes he'll change her life. Austin knows to be a sweetheart she has to join the FFA and raise a farm animal then have it judged at the fair.

Reading The Sweetheart of Prosper County, I fell in love with the characters: Austin (the main character), Maribel (the confident Hispanic best friend), Lewis (the evangelistic Elvis want-to-be), Lafitte Boudreaux (the Creole and former owner of Charles Dickens), Sundi (the marshmallow girl and former sweetheart), Dean (the bully), Josh (the FFA hottie), and Austin's mom (a hard working hardware store owner who is still dealing with the death of Austin's father).

My favorite character is the marshmallow girl, Sundi. I'd like to be tough enough on the inside to throw a punch to a bully then brush it off by pulling up "my girls" and whipping out my pink lip gloss. Jill Alexander describes Sundi as a marshmallow girl (pudgy and squishy, soft with no hard edges). She gives hugs freely to all and the same time she has the backbone to send her prize-winning lamb to the butcher and punch Dean in the face. I love it!

The setting of The Sweetheart is perfect! Prosper, Texas is a small rural town in North Texas. I'm a North Texas girl born and raised. I helped my dad pluck quail feathers but I never participated in catfish grappling (bare-handed fishing)! There is also a touch of Cajun and Hispanic influence in Prosper that made me hungry. I'm sure my Julia Child Book Club friends will agree! I was hungry to try Maribel's Mango kick (hellfire) ice cream, Lewis's blackberries, and Lafitte Boudreaux's crawfish boil. Summer in Texas is delicious!

This is a book that can be shared with women of all ages. It's a mature young adult book because it touches on the death of a parent, drug use, drunk driving, race, body image, bullies, winning and losing. But it still manages to stay light and uplifting. There are wonderful messages for young girls in this book: being true to yourself, not giving up, working for your dreams. My favorite message was pray the problem instead of the solution. I love how Jill Alexander writes in such a gentle way without pontificating. I think her style is unpretentious; young women will hear her wisdom, older women will conjure up memories of what it was like to be fifteen and everyone can learn something in Prosper.

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