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Young Adult Fiction 715
engaging YA contemporary
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A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY is a compelling YA contemporary about family, love, and being true to yourself. Emmett dreams of being the biggest openly gay country star, and he has gotten his first big break working at Wanda World as a performer, singing songs of the great country star Wanda Jean Stubbs. Once there, he feels a bit out of his depth, but his heart is in it - and an upcoming open mic night might be his ticket to becoming a real star, if he can write the right song.

Luke worries deeply for his family as they have recent financial struggles due to medical bills. His whole life has been built around dislike for country music and Wanda Jean in particular. However, he dreams of being a chef, and when a job connection is made for him at a restaurant - he is willing to take it, despite the fact that it is at Wanda World. He is unwilling to come out, considering the way his family feels about people who are gay and his ex-girlfriend who is now a coworker.

When Luke and Emmett run into each other, it feels like fate. This summer will be transformative for both of them, as they handle their personal challenges while getting to know each other better.

What I loved: This book handles some thought-provoking themes around sexism/racism/homophobia in music and employment, challenges around being open with who you are, reaching for your goals, family, and love. Around Wanda World and in the world of country music more broadly, there are many prejudices faced by the employees in the restaurant, with a boss who makes inappropriate remarks, and in the performances, with the best roles going to people with the "right" (white) look.

Emmett is struggling to follow his dreams while being true to himself by writing his own music. He feels like his big chance could be at the local open mic night, but preparing for it is anything but easy. His lyrics don't seem to be coming together the way he wants. Then, he is given an unexpected gift in the form of talented lyrics that have been hiding in an attic, and he has to decide whether to use them or his own. As she struggles with that, he also faces possibility in the music industry - if only he makes his music straighter.

Luke is also a really compelling character, who cares deeply about his family and what they think about him in return. He wants to help his parents with the overdue bills, but this is anything but easy. He also dreams of being a chef, something that feels unattainable. With encouragement from Emmett, he begins to take his dream seriously, but he is still not fully being true to himself and must decide how to handle his romantic relationship as well as those with his family.

Both characters are really compelling, and their romance was really lovely as well. They are each handling questions of how to be true to themselves in a world that is asking them not to be, and I appreciated the way they supported and helped each other through it all. Other threads around Luke's ex and Wanda Jean were also really compelling, and they all play out in a really lovely way.

Final verdict: With important themes and highly lovable characters, A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY is a consuming YA contemporary that I highly recommend for fans of BLAINE FOR THE WIN, IF THIS GETS OUT, and HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE.
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