Hello, friends! It’s my stop on the TBR & Beyond Tours for A Little Bit Country by Brian D. Kennedy and I’m excited to share my review and favourite quotes with you today!
Thanks to HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray for providing an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!
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Goodreads: A Little Bit Country
Publisher: HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: 07 June 2022
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Emmett Maguire has big dreams. He wants to be country music’s biggest gay superstar—a far reach when you’re 17 and living in suburban Illinois. Thankfully, his parents are letting him do the next best thing for the summer: stay with his aunt in Jackson Hollow, Tennessee, and perform at Wanda World—the amusement park owned by his idol, country music legend Wanda Jean Stubbs.
Luke Barnes, a 17-year-old Jackson Hollow resident, has no interest in country music. As the grandson of Verna Rose, the disgraced country singer who had a famous falling out with Wanda Jean, the world of country music has only brought his family pain. But as medical bills pile up at home, he’s forced to accept a job in the last place he’d ever want to work: a restaurant at Wanda World.
With Emmett focused on his career, and Luke blossoming in the kitchen, neither boy is expecting to find romance. But sparks fly when they meet and soon the two are inseparable. However, when a long-lost secret about Luke’s grandma and superstar Wanda Jean comes to light, it threatens to unravel everything. Unless the boys can uncover the truth of what really happened, their dreams could be over before they start, leaving their new relationship to go down in history as just another Sad Country Love Song.
Note: The quotes below are taken from an advanced/unfinished copy and are subject to change in the final version.
TL;DR: Overall, while this didn’t end up being the fun fluffy small-town romance I was expecting, I still really enjoyed it! Emmett and Luke were written with such heart and although their journeys had a lot of angst and struggles, it was satisfying to follow them and watch them grow. This teenage romance had so many adorably cute-awkward moments that had me giggling plus, I don’t think I’d ever mind reading a story with a lot of food/cooking and music. mean, I don’t like all country music but I do love some of it! I thought this was a great debut novel and I’d be keen to see what else the author writes in the future!
Content/Trigger Warnings: homophobia and internalised homophobia, homophobic slur, sexual harassment, cheating (secondary couple)
“There are a million reasons why I love country music: Each song tells a story. Sometimes it’s fun and campy—and sometimes it hits upon something so real and so true, you’re certain whoever wrote it was able to peer into your soul and put everything you were feeling into words.”
I didn’t even have to read the synopsis to know I wanted to read this immediately after seeing its cover. I’m such a sucker for illustrated ones and this ticked all my boxes, plus I love this title too! The cover does give the impression this will be a fluffy contemporary story, but don’t be fooled because this turned out to be quite different to what I expected; not in a bad way, just in a more serious way. This has angst galore and explored heavier topics such as internalised homophobia and bigotry in the music industry, amongst other things. I thought the author addressed these issues well but do check content/trigger warnings (below) and read with care.
“If you’re comfortable and supported in the life you were meant to be living, why go back to pretending to be someone you’re not? Lying to everyone and always having to watch our back isn’t healthy. I should know.”
Emmett and Luke were big dreamers and I loved that for them, even though they struggle a lot.
- Emmett is an endearing teen who simply wants to be the greatest and gayest country music star ever known but he questions his talent and whether he’ll ever succeed by being true to himself in an industry that would shun him for it. Still, despite his doubts and what he knows of the industry, his positivity never faltered and it only made him try harder. I loved his attitude and his passion for country music was absolutely infectious!
- Luke dreams of being a chef and creating true Southern cuisine that people from all over will seek out. His family is struggling financially and with a mother who’s chronically ill, a step-father who works long hours and two young siblings to care for, it seems like he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. He also struggled with his sexuality and his fear of being outed or even being seen with Emmett was palpable and it was heartbreaking. He has such a big heart and is so scared to disappoint his family who he loves and cares for so much, especially his mum who he very religious.
Their journeys to get to a place where they’re happy in their own skin were tough but ultimately very rewarding! There are a few side characters that do play a small role in their stories but I thought they were fairly two dimensional and simply there to push the story along. I did love Aunt Karen though—her enthusiasm and support for Emmett were the best! 💜
“Darlin’, even a wet blanket like you can’t put this flame out.”
There is also a romance and it does contribute to their growth but I felt like it took a backseat to the personal struggles they face. While this would usually bother me cos I expected more romance, their development is what made this a more enjoyable read for me. That’s not to say their romance wasn’t cute though because they had a lot of adorably cute-awkward moments that had me giggling as they learned about each other and explored firsts together—this was so sex-positive and it was great! I loved how they encouraged each other and how their relationship became a safe space but I have to say that it was also very angsty and perhaps a little too “insta” for me (although technically this does take place over one summer it just felt very fast because the passing of time isn’t really noted)!
“My love for you is not a cage / It’s a flame. Burning bright / One I’ll never let die.”
While the plot was pretty predictable and I could see how all the storylines would unfold, I still enjoyed reading it as it happened! That said, I wished that the ending had been given more time because it felt a bit simplistic and rushed. There were a few key moments that felt glossed over or were skipped on totally and I found that disappointing considering it’s such a big moment for the character and the culmination of the struggles they’ve experienced in the story, so to have it be skipped was a bit anticlimactic! If more time had been given to this part, I think it would’ve made the story stronger and I think more satisfying.
Brian D. Kennedy writes books for young adults. Born and raised in Minnesota, he occasionally elongates his vowels still. He now lives in New York City with his husband and their very photogenic dog. When he’s not writing, Brian can be found working at the LGBTQ Center, sitting in the audience at a Broadway show, or out buying more books—despite the stack of unread ones he has at home.
Do you have A Little Bit Country on your TBR?