A cutesy queer YA romance is the perfect summer read for me, so what better way to greet the sun than with A Little Bit Country. This is Brian D. Kennedy’s debut novel and everything you could hope for. I was lucky enough to get a physical proof of this through the Harper360 newsletter, and I positively devoured it.
A Little Bit Country follows Emmett and Luke, two boys who couldn’t be more different. Emmett wants to be country music’s biggest gay superstar, and Luke has issues with the genre stemming from his family. When both wind up working at Wanda World, an amusement park owned and run by country sensation Wanda Jean, they wind up exploring their attraction. But as Luke’s family secrets come to light, they must work together to figure out what they need to do for the best.
You can definitely see Kennedy’s love for Dolly Parton. This book was a love story to country music, and though Wanda Jean isn’t real, you can see where elements of her life come from. It was fun to read but also allowed Kennedy to explore Wanda Jean’s character more than he could’ve a real country star.
Character is something that Kennedy did so well. Both Emmett and Luke are very different, and their individual voices stand out. As well as them, you have some excellent side characters. Even those that are a little flat feel like they have their own personalities and voice. You just don’t really see it, which I think was pretty well done. We didn’t need to know much about Wheezer, but it’s nice to see that he might consider Luke a friend and things like that. There’s also a lot of talk about dreams and whether to follow them or give up on them. I felt like the characters handled this well. In the end, neither of them wanted to give up on what they wanted, but they accept that it might take a lot of hard work. They’ve seen it fail for people and know that could happen, but they still want to for their happiness. It was pretty uplifting.
That said, there is a lot of homophobia in this book, and some of it is internalised. Obviously, country music is often associated with the South, and that’s not the most gay-friendly part of the US. There are jokes, and Luke’s mum does come across as pretty homophobic. On top of that, you have Luke wishing he could be straight. It’s pretty sad and can be a little hard to read, but it was well written, and I think it’s pretty important. This book does have so much cuteness, but there’s just that sad undertone that just makes the happy ending all the brighter. There are also some comments on how Emmett can’t become a country singer singing about loving guys. That was to be expected, but it’s still worth noting if it’s something you’d rather avoid.
Two of the big themes in this book are music and food. The blurb doesn’t talk about Luke’s dreams, but I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you that he loves to cook. The job he’s doing in Wanda World is in the kitchen, so there’s a lot of talk about food. You have him learning new skills and talking about the dishes he’s making. It could make you pretty hungry so make sure you have snacks. The music theme was a lot more obvious, but I didn’t expect all the lyrics in this. It was nice to pause every now and then and read some of this music. It really added something to the book, and I’m glad they’ve been included.
The writing in this was easy to read. It’s a pretty short book, but it does give you everything that you want within those pages. I enjoyed this book so much. I think this will be a great read for those long summer days when you just want to sit outside and read a good book. Put some country music on in the background, grab some southern food, and you’ll be set.
Title: A Little Bit Country
Author: Brian D. Kennedy
Age Range: Young Adult
Publisher: Balzer + Bray/Harper360
Release Date: 7/7/22