Emmett Maguire wants to be country music’s biggest gay superstar – a far reach when you’re seventeen and living in Illinois. But for now, he’s happy to do the next best thing: Stay with his aunt in Jackson Hollow, Tennessee, for the summer and perform at the amusement park owned by his idol, country legend Wanda Jean Stubbs.
Luke Barnes hates country music. As the grandson of Verna Rose, the disgraced singer who had a famous falling out with Wanda Jean, Luke knows how much pain country music has brought his family. But when his mom’s medical bills start piling up, he takes a job at the last place he wants: a restaurant at Wanda World.
Neither boy is looking for romance, but sparks fly when they meet – and soon they’re inseparable. Until a long-lost secret about Verna and Wanda comes to light, threatening to unravel everything.
Will Emmett and Luke be able get past the truths they discover…or will their relationship go down in history as just another Sad Country Love Song?
Luke and Emmett couldn’t be more different. Emmett’s dream is to be the most popular gay country singer in the world, so he’s excited when he lands a gig at Wanda World for the summer as a member of their Jamboree stage. He hopes this may be a chance to get noticed by a record label. Luke, on the other hand, hates country music. Because of something that happened between his family and Wanda Jean many years ago (owner of Wanda World), Luke and his family want nothing to do with Wanda World or country music. However, Luke dreams of becoming a chef one day, so when he is offered a job at Wanda World, he reluctantly accepts though he keeps it a secret from his family. Luke is also gay but is deep in the closet, still trying to figure everything out. When the two teens meet, sparks fly between them, and both must make some heart-wrenching decisions.
Taking place during one summer, A Little Bit Country is a delightful coming-of-age story with two likable and relatable characters. Both boys were adorable, and their romance was super sweet, though they had several difficult hurdles to overcome. Luke and Emmett were each determined to live their dream, and I loved their innocence and enthusiasm.
The author seems to really understand the teenage soul—the rollercoaster of emotions, the longing, the self-awareness, the challenges, the occasional goofiness, and the confusion. Kennedy nails the teen boy voice perfectly in this story. Luke and Emmet are charming and flawed, but their strengths balance each other out, and we end up with a story about young men who, though at first glance appear quite different from the other, truly complement each other. The author also captures beautifully how simultaneously tender and daunting it can be to fall in love for the first time. It is at once an aching yet beautiful love story and a powerful exploration of self-awareness and self-discovery. I enjoyed witnessing the characters’ inner growth and insight, a difficult but lovely process.
This book also explores the aching loneliness of growing up and not finding your place, of feeling as if you’re a universe away from your friends and family, spinning aimlessly and waiting for life to begin. In this way, this book is about feeling — feeling love, feeling friendship, feeling like you finally belong, and in the process, learning to become brave enough to let others in.
All in all, I found A Little Bit Country to be a warm and embracing story of first love, family secrets, and following your dreams that I adored.
A huge thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins for providing a review copy of this book. Expected publication date is May 31, 2022.