Alecia Whitaker's Ricki Jo, the protagonist if The Queen of Kentucky, made me feel a bit as though I could be reliving my early high school years. Ricki Jo is entering her freshman year and beginning high school after attending the small Catholic school in her town. She wants to fit in with the in crowd, taking up cheerleading and developing a crush on Wolf, a star athlete of the freshman class.
Ricki falters plenty along the way, forgetting who her true friends are for a bit. There are times I wanted to scream at her to wake up as she handed over her homework to her new "friends" to copy, and tried out drinking despite the fact that she knew it was wrong. Yet, Whitaker's depiction of Ricki as a fourteen year old girl who wants her body to mature, who wants to fit in, who is struggling to grow up and figure out who she really is, is so spot on, that I was able to recall vividly feeling much like Ricki Jo.
I also attended a small private (in my case Lutheran) grade school and began high school knowing just a handful of people. As a late bloomer myself I remember changing for gym and being in awe of the girls who looked like women, while I was still waiting to grow up. Part of the teen experience is the awkwardness and feeling of not fitting in that Ricki is able to portray perfectly.
Ricki's friendship with her neighbor Luke was one of my favorite parts of The Queen of Kentucky. A truly good guy, I continued to root for Ricki to finally decide that although Wolf was good looking, Luke had much more going for him.
Whitaker left the ending up to her readers - at least a little bit- yet finished her novel in a perfect way. This is a debut novel, and I can't help but hope for more from Alecia Whitaker in the future.