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The Sweetheart of Prosper County

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Overview

Almost-15-year-old Austin Gray is tired of standing at the curb and watching the parade pass her by. Literally. She decides this is the year she’ll ride on the hood of a shiny pickup truck in the annual parade, waving to the crowd and finally showing the town bully that she’s got what it takes to be the Sweetheart of Prosper County.

But far from simply being a beauty contest, becoming Sweetheart involves participation in the Future Farmers of America (FFA), raising an animal, ...

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The Sweetheart of Prosper County

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Overview

Almost-15-year-old Austin Gray is tired of standing at the curb and watching the parade pass her by. Literally. She decides this is the year she’ll ride on the hood of a shiny pickup truck in the annual parade, waving to the crowd and finally showing the town bully that she’s got what it takes to be the Sweetheart of Prosper County.

But far from simply being a beauty contest, becoming Sweetheart involves participation in the Future Farmers of America (FFA), raising an animal, and hunting or fishing. Austin will do almost anything to become Sweetheart, and has the support of her oldest friend, Maribel, her new FFA friends (including the reigning Sweetheart, and a quiet, cute cowboy), an evangelical Elvis impersonator, a mysterious Cajun outcast, and a rooster named Charles Dickens. If only her momma would stop overprotecting her, and start letting Austin live her own life. But Austin can’t move on until Momma moves on, too—and lets the grief of losing Austin’s daddy several years before out into the open.

Here is a bighearted story that will leave readers agreeing with Austin that sometimes, it’s not what you ride, it’s how you roll.

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Austin Gray is almost 15 and she's tired of standing on the sidelines, of lacking self-confidence, and of being the butt of bully Dean Ottmer's jokes. She decides to build her confidence by aiming for the role of Sweetheart in next year's No Jesus Christmas Parade. To achieve her goal, Austin must join Future Farmers of America (FFA), raise an animal for show, and participate in a sport to show her community that she's worthy of being a parade "hood ornament." Austin's overprotective mother, still grieving the death of her husband in a mysterious accident, may take some convincing. Suzy Jackson's sweet, girlish voice fits Jill Alexander's (Feiwel & Friends, 2009) charming protagonist perfectly, and she does her best to produce a deep Elvis drawl and the low cadences of the Bayou for colorful male side characters. Austin's bittersweet and often humorous quest to reinvent herself is peopled by wonderful and strange friends: Maribel, her mature Latina best friend; the evangelical Elvis impersonator; cute cowboy Josh, and Charles Dickens, the handsome black bantam rooster Austin adopts as her FFA project. The East Texas locale drips atmosphere and quirky characters. Despite the requisite throes of teen angst, the characters are funny and likable (except the bully), and the pace is lively. The author has woven in touching scenes, haunting moments, and several hilarious scrapes. An engaging tale about appreciating your roots, shooting for the stars, and learning to be comfortable in your own skin.—Roxanne Spencer, Western Kentucky University Libraries, Bowling Green
Publishers Weekly
Austin Gray is sick of being an overlooked ninth-grader in her small Texas town (“I was just tired of feeling less-than, tired of waving back and being passed by”). Six years after losing her father, Austin endures endless taunting by the school bully, Dean, and unintentional alienation by her overprotective mother (still unwilling to broach the subject of her husband’s death) and her best friend, Maribel (“We were parallel friends going through life together but in two different worlds”). Overdue for a moment in the spotlight, Austin decides to raise a spirited Black Rosecomb Bantam rooster (which she names Charles Dickens), with the intention of winning a prize in the Future Farmers of America contest and being the star of the annual Christmas parade. Alexander’s debut is marked by a colorful supporting cast, fresh dialogue and Southern personality, which contribute to an entertainingly theatrical vision of smalltown life. The strong but precarious mother-daughter bond is well paired to the themes of finding inner strength and self-acceptance and letting go of the past. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Fifteen-year-old Austin Gray has not had an easy life. Her father died one rainy Christmas Eve when his car skidded off a bridge into a lake. Since then Austin's mother has kept her close, not allowing her to experience life for fear of another tragedy. Dean Ottmer has been Austin's worst nightmare since fourth grade, tormenting her mercilessly. So when Dean harasses her at the No-Jesus Christmas Parade about her flat chest ("Austin, Texas, the no-hill country"), she decides that now is the time to change her life or spend the rest of it as the butt of his jokes. As she sets her plan in motion, joining Future Farmers of America and making new friends, she realizes that it is not friends or popularity that will protect her from Dean, but the confidence to stand up for herself. Filled with quirky characters, including Charles Dickens, the rooster she decides to raise, this is a warm, humorous story that touches on bullying and politics in a small town. Austin is a study in contradiction. On the one hand she is strong-willed and goes after what she wants, and on the other she shows little confidence, allowing Dean to torment her time after time. But it's Austin's mother who quietly steals the show. She is a tough, no-nonsense woman who believes in her daughter but rarely shows her emotional side. A refreshing picture of teen angst, with realistic dialogue and memorable characters.—Kelley Siegrist, Farmington Community Library, MI
Kirkus Reviews
More than anything, Austin Gray, a ninth-grade girl who lives in a tiny Texas town, wants to ride on the hood of a car, smiling and waving to the crowd during the Christmas Parade. But to win the coveted spot of "hood ornament" in the parade, she's got to do something worthy. So Austin decides to get a chicken, join the Future Farmers of America, enter and win the poultry division of the livestock competition and become the FFA Sweetheart, who, not incidentally, rides in the parade. It's an ambitious plan and wins points for originality as well. How Austin puts her scheme into motion and how it transforms her from onlooker on the outskirts to contender in the center is the heart and soul of this novel. It's a bold and charming idea, but the story, which drags in spots, is more intriguing in concept than execution. Austin fails to captivate, and she's surrounded by secondary characters who don't generate enough feeling to keep readers engaged. A pity, but this debut author shows promise. (Fiction. 12 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781440762208
  • Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
  • Publication date: 10/27/2009
  • Format: CD
  • Age range: 12 years

Meet the Author

JILL S. ALEXANDER grew up in rural East Texas, where she went to work at age twelve bussing tables at the local truck stop. There, she met folks from all walks of life whose eccentricities color her work today. Jill has survived a tornado and catching on fire. She hates whining but loves fancy shoes, muscle cars, and Johnny Cash—preferably, all three at once. Jill taught high school English and Spanish before deciding to take a chance on writing full-time. A native of Texas, she lives in Tyler, Texas, with her husband and son. This is her first novel. You can visit her on the Web at www.jillsalexander.com.

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Read an Excerpt

1 a hood ornament in the no-jesus christmas parade

Sundi Knutt had a blue-ribbon-winning sow, a deer hunting license, and a mound of cleavage. She rode on the hood of Josh Whatley’s daddy’s four-wheel drive Super-Cab Ford. The Future Farmers of America chapter hung posters on each side door glitter-glued with FFA SWEETHEART in all caps. The truck was mirror white, and Sundi, stuffed in a strapless red velvet dress trimmed with real, white rabbit fur, waved to each side of the crowd as the truck poked around the downtown square.

“Hey!” A voice hollered toward Sundi. It was Dean Ottmer, standing in the middle of his spit-and-scratch so-called friends with his baseball cap on backwards. The cap pushed his straw hair down into his eyes, making him look like a short sheepdog. “Mrs. Claus called and she wants her outfit back!” His gang laughed and high-fived each other. Sundi just rode on, smiling and waving. Being a sweetheart must give a girl that kind of confidence.

“She looks like a cherry plopped on top of a DQ soft-serve sundae.” Maribel sucked on a candy cane, watching Sundi roll by.

Maribel and I weren’t parade royalty. We were just taking up space on the curb, waving back at the sweethearts, hoping to stay off Dean Ottmer’s radar.

“She looks more like an ornament to me,” I said. “Just hook a paper clip on her head and hang her from a Christmas tree.”

The truck inched along and so did Sundi’s dress. She stopped waving long enough to hook her thumbs under the fur and tug and pull the top up, but it looked about as pointless as trying to carry a couple of big water balloonsin a handkerchief.

The Big Wells High School cheerleading squad came flipping behind the FFA Sweetheart. The Roughnecks’ mascot, a girl hidden under an oversized man head with a permanent scowl, threw handfuls of plastic-wrapped candy canes into the crowd. Folks were scrambling around trying to catch them and scooping them off the ground.

Maribel stepped off the curb, picked up a fistful, and shoved them into her purse—a yellow mesh shoulder bag bearing the unibrowed likeness of Frida Kahlo and the declaration I Paint My Own Reality on the side.

“You’d think they were throwing money,” I said.

She tucked her black hair behind her ear. “Can’t hear you!”

The school band was going by, tooting and banging out “Jingle Bells.” I felt bad for Lewis Fortenberry. He marched in the back row with his tuba. Lewis was knock-kneed, and his blue uniform pants were too small and too snug around his big, flat butt. He looked like somebody squeezed his legs together and the fat parts just spread out over the top of his belt.

“Austin, he’s got bad muffin top,” Maribel whispered.

Dean Ottmer stepped off the curb and got behind the band. He had his T-shirt tucked into his jeans, and his jeans pulled down below his crack. He pinched his butt cheeks together and pretend-marched a few feet behind Lewis. Dean’s buddies clapped and yelled, “DEAN-O, DEAN-O, DEAN-O, DEAN-O.”

Lord, Jesus! I threw my head back, looking for some help from above. Dean Ottmer is present. Momma said to pray the problem, not the outcome. She said that in the Bible, Mary doesn’t pray for Jesus to bring wine; she just told him they were out, then he gave them a flowing river of wine. Momma said to tell Jesus the problem and let Him solve it in His way in His time. But I added anyway, Ninth grade has been rough, and I’ve got three and a half years of high school left. And one more time in case He missed it, Dean Ottmer is present.

I opened my eyes. Dean was still there—the biggest mouth in the crowd lining Main Street. The whole town and half of Prosper County had turned out for the annual Big Wells Christmas parade. A small-town social event. As big a draw as Friday night football and Sunday morning church.

Some burly man with a four-year-old on his shoulders decided he could get a better view if he stood in front of me, so Maribel and I had to move. Mayor Nesmith’s float was coming by; we wanted to be in the front for that. He had been mayor of Big Wells for three years, and every year he had the best parade float, and handpicked kids off the curb and out of the crowd to ride on it. Maribel and I were hoping this year was our turn. Mayor Nesmith was up for reelection; I felt sure he’d load his float up with kids.

As Mayor Nesmith’s float got closer, downtown Big Wells began to smell like a movie theater.

“Wow!” Maribel drew in a long sniff. “It’s a popcorn buffet.”

And it was. Mayor Nesmith’s float was a spanking-new, red eighteen-wheeler with a flatbed, lowboy trailer. The trailer had two popcorn machines on each end, a Christmas tree with the White family dressed fancy and stringing popcorn garlands—Mrs. White had been Miss Texas and her perfect twins had her silky blond hair—and a few veterans dressed in their military uniforms walking along handing out bags of popcorn. “Run Run Rudolph” blasted from the float. Tiffany Smoot, the high school dance team captain, and Marvelle Jones, the first male, African-American cheerleader in Big Wells, performed a super-fast swing dance in the middle of the float. Two long banners hung from each side of the trailer: HAVE A HOT POPPIN’ DOO-WOP CHRISTMAS.

Mayor Nesmith hopped out of the shiny red cab in a business suit, a red tie, and a Santa Claus hat. He gave everyone a big, two-handed wave and walked toward Maribel and me, smiling directly at us.

“This is it, Maribel.” I grabbed her arm. We stepped off the curb. “We’re finally getting to ride in the Christmas parade.”

Mayor Nesmith grabbed two bags of popcorn from one of the veterans and stiff-armed them at me and Maribel. We stopped in our tracks. He turned away from us and shook hands with the burly man. The little girl on the man’s shoulders reached down toward the mayor. She had curly black hair and black patent-leather shoes and a shorty-short black satin dress with a white lace collar. She looked like a collectible doll sold in a box. A veteran wearing a starched white navy uniform put a stepladder by the truck’s cab. Mayor Nesmith carried the little doll up the steps and posed her on the hood. She immediately began waving and smiling—side to side, side to side.

“A hood ornament!” I stepped back onto the curb and pulled a fistful of popcorn from the bag. “I haven’t liked Nesmith since he took Jesus out of the parade.”

In his first parade as mayor, Nesmith assembled a baby-Jesus-in-the-manger float. County folks loaned him a goat, two sheep, and a donkey. He borrowed a camel from the exotic animal farm by the interstate. The Methodists donated a young couple and their new baby. Mayor Nesmith rented a Roman soldier costume and stood in front of the manger scene waving. Less than a week later, the Big Wells Tribune ran an editorial on the separation of church and state, using the mayor and his float as the example. The paper quoted the mayor the next day as saying it was an honest mistake and that future Christmas parades would definitely not include Jesus.

“He gave Reese’s out?” Maribel asked, hoping for some chocolate.

“No!” I yelled over “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” “I said ‘JESUS OUT’!”

Nesmith’s doo-wop vote float rolled slowly past, making sure everyone could read the huge sign stretched across the back of the trailer:

RE-ELECT

MAYOR VICTOR NESMITH

I heard a crowd of boys laughing and looked around. Dean Ottmer had a couple of his jerk friends locked elbow to elbow and standing off the curb—one brown-haired string bean stooge and one short dumpy guy with a candy cane in his mouth. Dean imitated Nesmith and strutted toward them—shoving each in the chest with half-empty popcorn bags. He shoved them again, then pointed and hee-hawed at me and Maribel. I pinched my lips together and made out like I didn’t get that he was making fun of us, like I didn’t even see him. But he was still there, still laughing, and still under my skin.

The United Hispanics of Texas cruised to a stop in front of us. The UHOT board members rode in an old Impala convertible painted metallic brown with chrome rims and brown-trimmed, white leather seats. Daisy Flores, a senior and the UHOT La Reina, graced the hood.

“She is a daisy,” I said. The sleeves of her yellow satin dress framed her brown face and eyes when she raised her arms to wave.

“Rrrrrrrrrrrrrdddd!” Maribel hollered, trilling her r’s for everyone to hear.

She tried teaching me how to do that once, but I just spit a rain shower trying to say arriba. Everyone in the UHOT cruiser whistled back at Maribel, like they knew her personally, like she had some double life I knew nothing about.

Dean Ottmer and company belted out a Spanglish karaoke attempt at “Feliz Navidad.” They made up Spanish-sounding words for the lyrics they didn’t know.

“Good gravy!” Maribel rolled her eyes, blowing Dean off. “He just makes fun of everything.”

Texanne Farhat, the Rodeo Club Sweetheart two years running, rode by on the hood of a 1970s Cadillac with real cow horns mounted on the car’s grille.

“Those must’ve come off a big side of beef,” Maribel said.

Texanne held the state record in barrel racing as a freshman and a sophomore. She wore a pink, wide-brimmed cowboy hat and huge grin. She had Bugs Bunny front teeth but didn’t seem to care as she sat on that hood, waving and blowing kisses at the crowd.

“Hey!” Dean Ottmer was at it again. “I bet you could bite an apple through a picket fence!” Then he held two bent fingers in front of his top lip and waved real big with his other hand. Texanne covered her mouth with both hands, then blew double kisses, maybe even quadruple kisses, toward Dean. She took off her hat and drew big circles in the air with it, like a lasso. Then she yelled, “WHOOOOOP!” She had her very own cowgirl signature wave and holler, and Dean Ottmer meant nothing to her.

Maribel and I cracked up.

“What are you laughing at, chestless?” Dean flattened his palms and mashed them across the front of his shirt. “Austin, Texas”—Dean kept his palms flat against his chest—“the no-hill country.”

Dang. It seemed like the whole crowded curb laughed—everyone except me and Maribel. I was nobody’s sweetheart, and I didn’t have a signature wave. And I had no car to ride off on when Dean Ottmer punched me with insults. I just stood on the curb with a greasy popcorn sack and a red face as the parade rolled by.

“Don’t let him get to you, Austin.” Maribel tried to make me feel better for the umpteenth time. “He’s like E. coli—just contaminates everything he comes in contact with.”

But this time Dean Ottmer had flipped my switch. No way could I spend the next three and a half years of high school being identified as “Austin Gray, you know, the girl who’s the butt of Dean Ottmer’s jokes.” I had taken his smack since fourth grade and done nothing. Just like I waited on the curb for someone to pull me into the parade instead of joining in on my own. I had to redefine myself in high school, become something other than Dean’s punch line.

“That’s it, Maribel,” I said as Santa Claus rode by on the fire truck. “This is the last time I’m getting stuck on the curb with Dean-O the Jerk-O. No matter what I have to do, come next year, I’m going to be a hood ornament in the No-Jesus Christmas Parade.”

Excerpted from The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander.
Copyright © 2009 by Jill S. Alexander.
Published in 2009 by Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 6, 2011

    Omg loved it

    Read it from the library and want to get on here it is a real sweet country girl tale.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2012

    Love.

    So good!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2012

    Loved it

    Such a good book

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 7, 2011

    a really great book

    austin tired of beening the outsider so she decides to take action. read this book and find out wat she did.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 26, 2010

    FFA, Sweethearts, and Chickens

    Austin Grey's story is one of kind. It is a tale of friendship, loss, discovering ones self, and chickens. Austin has been teased by the town bully Dean for most of her life. Tired of being the punch line of his jokes she decides to become the FFA Sweetheart. But this goal gives her more than she asked for such as a sassy rooster, new FFA friends, and finally the chance for her and her mom to remember and celebrate her dad while still moving on. With the help of a "marshmallow girl", an elvis impersonator, a couple of cowboys, a feisty spanish girl, and the unforgettable rooster Charles Dickens, Austin learns that the only way people can hurt you is if you let them. This is a great story about growing up and finding the place where you truly belong.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2012

    Great book!

    After losing her father, Austin has beegloomy all her life. Now that changes in her high school years where she makes friends, gains courage, and finds her true self. She even gets a chicken for christmas:) This book is funny, romantic, and moving. One word- amazing:)

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 25, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Loved it!!!

    I was drawn to this book because the author is from East Texas, and i stayed because the story was too good to pass up! Its a great book about the struggle to recover from loss, friendship and a really great rooster,and one that you will totally love. I loved every bit of this book!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 30, 2010

    great book!!!

    i recommend this book to people whho are interested in FFA or 4-h

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 4, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Loved it!

    I'm a writer, and when I first saw this book, I was worried it was going to be very similar to the one I was working on. It's not, thankfully, but this book is a really good, wholesome story about an all-American girl who goes after the title of FFA Sweetheart. (The book is not cheesy like my review haha).

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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