Fourteen-year-old Austin Gray has a goal to be in next year's No-Jesus Christmas Parade, and she has a plan to get there: she will win the Prosper County Fair Poultry Competition next summer and become the Future Farmers of America Sweetheart. First, though, she has to convince her mother that her Christmas present must be a bantam rooster. First-time novelist Alexander offers a delightful, funny story about teenagers living in a West Texas farming community. The memorable characters include reigning FFA Sweetheart Sundi Knutt; Austin's archnemesis, Dean Ottmer; gorgeous farm-boy and possible boyfriend Josh Whatley; and best friend Maribel, a Mexican American dynamo filled with ethnic pride and joie de vivre. The adults in the book are equally rich and authentic, from Austin's capable but grieving widowed mother to the sleazy Big Wells mayor to bighearted Cajun Lafitte Boudreaux. Austin's year of added responsibility and independence make for a substantive, enjoyable coming-of-age novel that will speak to rural and urban readers alike.--Bradburn, Frances Copyright 2009 Booklist
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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved