So my purchase of this book was done on a bit of whim after I found out about the author’s inspiration for writing it. Combs (like me) is a Kentuckian and (also like me) participated in the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program, a program for academic rising high school seniors in the state to attend a summer institute, and that will very likely help these students to obtain scholarships to colleges within the state. I loved my time at GSP in 2009, so the chance to revisit it in young adult fiction — which, as you know, I adore — was right up my alley.
I didn’t love this book, but that in no way means that I hated it. Considering I had the very experience that protagonist Gloria had made it a bit difficult for me to take myself out of the book; I often found myself thinking, “that’s not true” or “that wouldn’t happen at GSP,” but, obviously, this is a work of fiction. My own prejudices were fairly irrelevant to the reading experience.
My more legitimate issues with the book, though, came from some of Combs’s characterization of Kentuckians. First of all, I think this novel would be difficult to enjoy if the reader wasn’t from Kentucky because the culture of the state is ingrained in its plot. For me, the problem with this was that I felt some of the “Kentuckyness” of it was incorrect. It seemed that everyone in the book was either from Louisville or Muhlenberg County — essentially the “urban Kentuckians” versus the “coal-mining Kentuckians.” I don’t fit directly into either of these groups, so I felt like this was an oversimplification of our culture. I also felt like Combs had a rather indiscriminate use of “y’all” (which she spelled as “yall,” another thing that drove me crazy). Sure, Kentuckians say “y’all,” but not every Kentuckian from every part of the state uses it all the time. I realize these are very superficial problems, but as a Kentuckian, these were the things that rubbed me the wrong way about the book. Generally, I also wanted a bit more from the story, though I did appreciate Combs’s conclusion. Maybe it’s just because I’m a GSP alum, but I felt like there were parts missing from the experience that make it so memorable.
Even with the issues I had with the book, I found it to be a sweet and compelling enough novel. I would certainly be interested in reading more from Combs in the future, and the fact that she’s a Kentuckian only makes me more willing to support her.