Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Oh My God! It's Us at 14!
What were you like at 14? Did you try hard to be popular and fit in with the popular crowd? Did you lose friends in the process or forget your way as you tried desperately for the cool kids to notice you? Did labels and name brands mean a lot to you as you navigated your first year of high school? If so, whether you are a city girl or a country girl, you can all relate to Ericka (previously known as Ricky Jo when she was in 8th grade) in The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker.
Ericka made sure no one called her Ricky Jo. She was starting 9th grade and had no intention of being known as poor farm girl Ricky Jo anymore. it was time to reinvent herself. She had a new wardrobe, she had tried out for cheerleading, and she was on the track of a new group of friends. Even though at home she still had to work in the tobacco fields, getting the crop ready, in school she was Ericka. She lucks out in home room by not only getting to hang out with the Fabulous Four (hoping to change it to the Fabulous Five), but she also sits right next to David Wolfbaker... the boy known as Wolf for more than just his name.
With a rampaging crush on Wolf, Ericka manages to carry on as cool as she can. She and the Fabulous Four have some fun together, but she never finds a way to get herself on the inside of the group. The girls always seem to have an inside joke she doesn't understand or an impromptu sleep over she wasn't invited to. The hardest part s how Ericka's transition has started to affect her best fried Luke and her friends from middle school. She wants to be a good friend, but her attempts to fit in are alienating everyone she originally cared for... and for what? Friends who usually don't seem to care about her as much as they say they do? And Wolf is the worst. She has a crush on a boy who insults her and humiliates her more than he flirts with her, but of course, he is always sweet and adorable the minute no one else is around. She has some big decisions to make: is she sweet farm girl Ricky Jo or cut-throat popular girl Ericka?
I am going to premise this by saying this girl was SO ME when I was in junior high. Everything Whitaker describes about trying to fit in, always finding yourself just outside the popular group, and always feeling sad or disappointed when they didn't include you is an exact description of most of my adolescent years. I look back to those years and cringe, which is why I struggled a little with this story at first. Not because it wasn't well-written, because it was, but because it was SO REAL! I found myself thinking, "Crap?! Did I know this author growing up?" No, but I am sure this story is a lot more common than uncommon. And the beauty of its realistic descriptions is that you feel every single emotion with Ericka. You want to tell her to tell those frenemies to go stuff it. You want her to tell Wolf that he is a total jerk. You want her to kiss Luke. You want her to play basketball which she rocks at instead of wasting her time with cheerleading. And most importantly, you want to tell her she isn't alone, that you know how she feels because you lived through the exact same childhood (possibly minus the tobacco drying in the barn).
I think this is a great book for any girl, but the important thing to remember is that the main character is only 14. Therefore, she acts, speaks, and thinks like a 14 year old, which if you remember correctly, is a pretty bratty and immature time. So while 14 year olds would really relate to Ericka, I worry older girls might find her too bratty and annoying to give the book a chance, despite the fact that they would love it if they did. (Of course that might be because it hits too close to home about how bratty THEY were at 14!). There is a little talk of making out, but nothing too bad (the main character is mostly worried about getting her first kiss), one scene of silly slumber party streaking that showed girls more embarrassed than proud to take their clothes off, and an ugly bout of drinking that had the cautionary hangover scenes to follow. I think this is a great story for any young girl, whether she is strong and determined (even though we know that s usually a facade), or she is unsure of herself and trying to find her way. As an adult woman, if you read this story, you are bound to see a little of yourself in Ericka, whether you like it or not! And since we all remember what a nightmare it was to be 14, proceed at your own risk! But Alecia Whitaker is definitely an author to be watched! She has a fresh voice and wonderful characters and knows how to take a coming of age story and make it more... so much more!