SUMMARY: Tired of standing on the sidelines of life, ninth-grader Austin Gray decides this is the year she will ride as the County Sweetheart on the hood of a car in the Prosper County Christmas (a.k.a. “No-Jesus”) Parade. To do so, she’ll need the help of her grieving momma, best friend Maribel, the former Sweetheart, a quiet but cute cowboy, and of course, Charles Dickens, her sassy black rooster.
READALIKES: How Not To Be Popular (Jennifer Ziegler); The Queen of Kentucky (Alecia Whitaker); Just Your Average Princess (Kristina Springer); Where the Heart Is (adult novel by Billie Letts)
- Overall: 2/5
- Creativity: 3/5
- Characters: 4/5
- Engrossing: 1/5
- Writing: 4/5
- Appeal to teens: 4/5
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
- Language: none
- Sexuality: very mild; hand-holding
- Violence: none
- Drugs/Alcohol: mild; a minor character with a reputation for substance abuse gets drunk/stoned and wrecks car
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have multiple copies since it was on the 2010-2011 Lone Star Reading List. Last year, it was pretty popular with the girls; sometimes, all copies would be checked out, with a short hold list from time to time. I don’t remember ever seeing a boy check it out. This year, it still gets a little checkout, but nothing like last year when it was on the Lone Star List. My amazing library aide really enjoyed this book, and she still sometimes recommends it to students.
A NOTE ABOUT THE FRONT COVER: Librarians considering purchase should definitely buy the paperback if your district allows paperback purchases. When it was first on the Lone Star list, I thought the hardcover art featuring a black rooster did this book no favors; it hardly got checked out at all. When the paperback cover (with the cute girl in a black cowboy hat) came out, we bought several more copies and checkout increased dramatically. Yay to publishers for changing that cover!
WARNING: The reviews on this site are intended for librarians who need thorough book reviews in order to make informed purchasing decisions. As such, anything below this warning may contain mild spoilers. I try not to give away too much, but I do review the entire book.
WHAT I LIKED: The characters depicted in this diverse, small town community remind me a little of Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts. For unique voice, setting, and character development, I give Jill Alexander major props. Reading Sweetheart makes me want to move from my big Texas city to a small Texas town. The people in the town are certainly interesting, their characters clearly drawn and believable. Even though I’m not jumping out of my chair over Sweetheart, I can’t deny Jill Alexander’s writing talent, and I plan to read her second novel, Paradise in the very near future.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: It’s not that I didn’t enjoy this book; I just don’t see what all the fuss is about. Sweetheart has won numerous book awards and was included on last year’s Lone Star List (not an easy feat), so I went into this one with high expectations. Despite beautiful writing and unique characters, I felt bored by the story. I did not care about Austin or her silly dream of riding on the hood of a parade car to one-up the nasty bully tormenting her. Very little actually happens in the story, and it was just too easy for me to put down. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t like it, either. Considering all Sweetheart‘s literary praise, I just expected more.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Literary recognition and great writing talent don’t always make an engrossing read. While it’s not a page-turner, I still strongly recommend middle school librarians, especially those in Texas, purchase Sweetheart for its characters and slice-of-life depictions of life in a small Texas town.