"Almost-15-year-old Austin Gray is tired of standing at the curb and watching the parade pass her by. Literally. She decides this is the year she’ll ride on the hood of a shiny pickup truck in the annual parade, waving to the crowd and finally showing the town bully that she’s got what it takes to be the Sweetheart of Prosper County.
But far from simply being a beauty contest, becoming Sweetheart involves participation in the Future Farmers of America (FFA), raising an animal, and hunting or fishing. Austin will do almost anything to become Sweetheart, and has the support of her oldest friend, Maribel, her new FFA friends (including the reigning Sweetheart, and a quiet, cute cowboy), an evangelical Elvis impersonator, a mysterious Cajun outcast, and a rooster named Charles Dickens. If only her momma would stop overprotecting her, and start letting Austin live her own life. But Austin can’t move on until Momma moves on, too—and lets the grief of losing Austin’s daddy several years before out into the open."
I really enjoyed this sweet and heartwarming book story; Austin is a great character who definitely tugs at the reader's heartstrings. Her quest to find acceptance through her town's annual Christmas parade leads her on a journey of discovery that ultimately helps move her life forward in wonderful and unexpected ways. I thought the relationship between Austin and her mother was compelling, especially given the loss of her father in a freak accident years ago; Austin's attempts to become more popular help bring her mother through the final stages of the grieving process. The themes of friendship, bullying, and even first love are sensitively handled by Alexander. My only complaint is that the book felt a bit light; it was short and sweet but could have been further fleshed out to make a longer deeper book that would have revealed more about Austin to the reader. Great read; highly recommended.