Cover Image: A Little Bit Country

A Little Bit Country

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I enjoyed this YA romance novel quite a bit. It is the perfect summer read because it is set in the summer and a summer theme park. Great for fans of country and romance.
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I am always cautious when I am reading an author's debut novel, even more so when that novel falls under the YA genre. It is hard to write YA and sometimes it can take a few stories for an author to get comfortable with it. A Little Bit Country is not a bad book by any means. The story itself is pretty creative and unique. However, the writing was not great. Kennedy, the author, tackled too many storylines and characters for a 350-page book. With that being said I would give his writing another chance in the future because I feel like he has more to bring to the LGBTQ+ fiction genre at the YA level.
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This was an absolute delight! Kennedy writes with so much heart and that pours out of each page. Both Luke and Emmett are nuanced characters with their own complexities and had a compelling voice. Such a charming read that is perfect for the summer!
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“Nobody owes their story to the world. But maybe it’s not about owing your story. Maybe it’s about wanting other people to know.”

A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY is a queer YA romance that celebrates gay love, coming out, and country music. Emmett is a midwestern boy spending the summer in a small town in Tennessee to work at Wanda World (an amusement park founded by the preeminent Wanda Jean Stubbs, who is this fictional world’s Dolly Parton) and get closer to his goal of being a gay country music superstar. Luke, who has always wanted to be a chef, is working his way up the ladder starting as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Wanda World and trying to keep his struggling family afloat financially while his mom manages her multiple sclerosis. He also happens to be the grandson of the late Verna Rose, Wanda’s former friend who’s best known for marrying Wanda’s ex-husband. Because of how Verna was burned by the industry in the aftermath, Luke’s family has always steered clear of country music, but his newfound romance with Emmett will challenge that in all kinds of surprising ways.

Emmett and Luke make a really strong gregarious/stoic pairing in this story. Their mutual affection is powerful (if a bit too instalove-ish for me) and they are great foils for each other; Emmett is ambitious and openly gay, encouraging Luke to follow his dreams, and Luke, saddled with too much responsibility at such a young age, bearing the weight of his family’s secrets and his own. Much of the conflict revolves around Luke’s internal debate about coming out and worrying how it will impact his family, and the way Emmett and Luke’s goals intersect and get messy. I adored the storyline about Wanda and Verna; they’re obviously reminiscent of Dolly and her best friend Judy Ogle, and knowing the rumors about that real life pair I guessed at where it was going (though I’ll leave it a mystery for those unfamiliar). I loved the way life in a small town, especially for a queer teen, is illustrated, the tender representation of masculinity, and how Kennedy demonstrates the power of queer ancestors. Thanks to Balzer + Bray/Harperteen for the review copy! 

Content warnings: homophobia, fear of family rejection, chronic illness, hospitalization
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This was a lot of fun! A light read in a fairground setting put to country music. For fans of Phil Stamper, Adam Silvera, Ryan La Sala, and Annabeth Albert.
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Oh my goodness!! This book was completely, totally adorable! Emmett Maguire wants to be country music's biggest gay superstar, which is a bit of a reach when you're seventeen and living in Illinois. Until that happens, he's staying with his aunt in Jackson Hollow, Tennessee for the summer to perform at the amusement park owned by his idol, country legend Wanda Jean Stubbs. 

Luke Barnes hates country music (I totally understand this). 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 his mom's medical bills start piling up, so he takes a job at the last place he wants: a restaurant at Wanda World. 

Neither of these boys are looking for romance, but sparks fly when they meet and soon they're inseparable. 

Again, this book is completely adorable, even for someone who isn't a fan of country music. It's mostly the racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism....really any -ism or -phobia that is super prevalent in country music. I used to listen to country music a lot, I did grow up in Texas and it was basically all I knew growing up. When I started branching out to find my own music in my teens, I turned to emo, indie, alternative bands. Country music was still something I would listen to every once and a while. Recently, I was listening to some country music on the radio on the way to work. Once at work, I texted my two best friends complaining about how horrible the songs were; it was a mix of new and old country music. The rest of the week was a similar pattern, and by the end of the week, I decided listening to country music wasn't something I needed to do anymore. 

So why did I read a book that had a focus on country music? It was the queer romance plus the fact that Wanda Stubbs was slightly based off of Dolly Parton, who is a national treasure and should be protected at all costs. 

The story was the right amount of emotion and realness of the two boys lives. I was a bit nervous when I started reading it because Luke's mom his very religious and it's alluded that she's not a fan of the LGBTQ+ community. I was afraid that it would turn into a gay trauma book, but it wasn't that at all. Luke did have moments of figuring out his relationship with Emmett while keeping it a secret, but everything works out in the end. There is no parents disowning or being angry at their son, Emmett's family is supportive and happy for him. 

I was surprised by the long-lost secret about Verna and Wanda, and I feel a little oblivious that I didn't see it coming. However, it did make the whole book that much sweeter. I'll totally admit that I was in tears when I found out about Verna and Wanda. 

Definitely, definitely recommend this book to those who like a (mostly) happy queer romance with a dash of country music thrown in!
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A little hokie at times, but that goes with the territory of of the "Dolly-wood-inspired-world" Kennedy created.  His imagery made the setting feel so real and relatable- even through alternating view points.  It is easy to both love and hate something as grotesquely grandiose as Wanda World.  The ending is satisfying and unexpected!
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Charming. If you love country, you'll really enjoy this coming out, coming of age book about two boys in the country, Gabe is a visiting, aspiring country singer who wants to be the next best thing. The problem is that he's spending the summer at a country-themed park playing the role of the back on a donkey. While there, he charms Emmett, a small-town boy. There's a mystery involving the town's famous country singer and Emmett's family, but the crux of the story is between Gabe and Emmett's relationship. Gabe is out and proud, and wants to be able to share his relationship with Emmett with the world while also being understanding of Emmett's reluctance to come out in his small town. This is a good book to see.a portrayal of teens trying to figure out how to navigate homophobic beliefs in their community and families. 

It's a short and sweet book overall.

Thank you NetGalley for the digital ARC.
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3.5 Good for a cute gay read but the plot and writing needed more work.

Being gay can come with a lot of trauma and hardships as well as oppression which felt like it was handled pretty well. But when tackling racism and whiteness in country music, I feel like the main character ran face first into the point and still missed it. As a white person, he still has extreme privilege even if he’s gay. This point is further shown by Emmett contemplating hiding he’s gay and acting straight. The character spoke as if he had it the hardest ever in his quest to be a famous country singer when, as a white gay man, he has an option (however painful that can be) to pretend he’s straight to fit the mainstream audiences. POC don’t have the option to pretend to be white usually. It just irked me because it kept taking me out of the story when I kept thinking 'you’re literally a well off cis white man' when he was saying he needed "every advantage possible." 

This issue of country being a very white only space was even brought up in the book via the small time two Black side characters had. This leads into my next issue with the book, the substance. Many different plot lines and events happened in this book. It felt like a lot but all of the plot lines were all hardly finished, delved into and were rushed. I think this book would’ve benefitted with editing of some ideas and focusing on really putting everything into the most important ideas. 

The last few chapters of the book felt really rushed when the conflicts that are addressed in these chapters are problems that are the books major conflicts. Hardly anything is addressed. 

I found the plot to be fairly okay but nothing shocked me about it. It was fairly standard.
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What a fun coming of age book. There were a few times when I wished it would “hurry up and get to the good part” but that was just me being impatient! Slow down, let the characters get to know each other, and learn about them. The pacing was perfect… I was the problem! 

The story unfolds as you would expect, but with some twists along the way. Any fan of country music, love stories, and/or coming out stories would love this book.
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Now I am not a country music fan in the slightest, but this had a lot of charm and just a little bit of sass, i very much enjoyed this.
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As a gay country/folk music fan myself, I may have been a little too hyped for this and set myself up for disappointment. I had bigger expectations than I should have for a debut novel. There was a LOT going on in this story. If all the different plots had been more fleshed out that might have given the book the depth I was looking for. As of now I feel like it tried to do too much and spread itself thin. Unfortunately, the main relationship was one of the things that suffered due to this. I just wasn't feeling the connection like I wanted. However, since this is the author's first book, I am hoping he will continue to grow.
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Many thanks to Netgalley and Balzer and Bray for an advance reader copy of this book!

Imagine if you one day went to an amusement park and said what if I set a book here and what if it's gay and you have this book. Obviously it's so much more than that but this book plays such an homage to Dollywood that I almost felt like I had been there even though I've
never set foot in Tennessee.

Emmett and Luke literally crash into each others lives one summer and form a friendship that eventually turns into more. I loved that this book did not shy away from discussion of not being out and what that can mean for
a relationship.

What I liked:
*Emmett's aunt and the dynamic it creates
*Meet cute
*I mean it's set at an amusement park
*Dolly Parton-esque character

What I didn't like:
*There were a couple of choices with the plot that I really don't understand why they were included but that's not for me to decide. I struggled with them as they fit into the rest of the story and it put a damper on my enjoyment

This is a fun YA summer romance about not changing who you are just to fit someone else's mold and the things we need to do to follow our dreams and our hearts.
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A Little Bit Country 

Thank you so much to Brian D. Kennedy, Book Forward & Harper Collins for an advance copy of this book! 

This will be published on May 31st. 

I had first heard about this book last year and had been anticipation its release. 

What more could you ask for, a gay romance while taking place at an amusement park that is the equivalent to DollyWood?! 

Emmett is from Chicago who has one goal: to be the first gay country superstar. He hopes getting a job at Wanda World’s Good Time Jamboree in Jackson Hollow, Tennessee will be the foot in the door he needs. 

Luke lives in Jackson Hollow and his time is spent working and taking care of his family. His mom has Multiple Sclerosis and has been in and out of work while his stepdad works nights. His  dream is to be a chef. He was offered an opportunity to work in the kitchen at Granny’s Cupboard in Wanda World. 

The two meet and it was instant attraction. Luke has not had much experience with men as he is closeted, scared of what his family will think of him. Whereas Emmett is loud and proud and is very open. This causes conflict between the couple.  In addition to the budding romance, we also have a little mystery involving Wanda World’s very own Wanda Jean Stubbs. 

“You can be any color you want and still be in my rainbow”

This hit all the right marks for me and was such a joy to read. I thought the writing was fast pace and kept moving along. Having the dual point of views of each men was an added bonus. I also liked that it wasn’t always the same pattern in sequence (ex: Luke, Emmett, Emmett, Luke, Luke). I also was not expecting a little bit of steam for a YA novel. 

I love how Kennedy described Wanda World because I could picture everything in my head. I felt like I could have been there. 

One of my favorite quotes from the book is: “A song doesn’t always have to be true. But there should be truth in it. An emotion you can connect with. Lyrics that articulate something you believe.”

4.5 Rating
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This was adorable!  A perfect YA summer romance with a HEA set inside a Dollywood-esq theme park.  A great addition where contemporary romance or LGBT+ are popular! I just reviewed A Little Bit Country by Brian D. Kennedy. #ALittleBitCountry #NetGalley
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I really wanted to love this book.

I hate writing reviews for books I didn’t like, but I think this one is the saddest of them all. Not only did I receive an advanced copy of this book, but my interest in this book was formed because of a tweet made by the author himself.

But let’s talk about the book.

This book focuses on three different conflicts. The first focuses on Emmett, a young country singer who wants to break down the heteronormative views of country music and become a popular gay country artist.

The second focuses on Luke, who is a closeted gay teen we’ll talk a little more about later.

And the third is between Wanda Jean and Verna Rose, two country singers who used to be very close. Until they weren’t.

Because a lot of this book focuses on country music, there are a lot of lyrics in the text. And I want to be fully honest by saying first and foremost that I skipped a lot of these lyrics. I know a lot of other readers also like to skip song lyrics when they pop up in stories, so anyone who also doesn’t enjoy reading lyrics may want to know that there are quite a few sections of lyrics in this book.

I did, however, really enjoy Emmett’s side to this story. I liked seeing him try to become a famous gay country star, even if country music is largely heteronormative.

However, I didn’t care one way or another for Wanda Jean and Verna Rose’s side of the story, and I hated Luke as a character.

A lot of Luke’s side of the story is him hiding important things about himself from his family and friends in order to “protect” them. Most of this protection focuses on his mom, who has multiple sclerosis and who he doesn’t want to relapse by telling her that he’s gay and wants to work as a chef, and his ex girlfriend, whose feelings he doesn’t want to hurt if he reveals that he just doesn’t like women.

As someone who thinks you can absolutely make a family out of people who support you and cut out the people who don’t, I hated reading Luke’s point of view. His hesitance to tell the people in his life even the most basic details about himself made me angry. But even worse, I hated reading him treat Emmett like trash in order to keep hiding his own identity and “protect” the people who didn’t need his protection. Multiple times throughout this book, Emmett needs to sneak around and hide their relationship. My eventual “fuck Luke, he can never recover from this” moment was closer to the end of the book, in a scene where Emmett has something really important to say to Luke and tries to catch him near the dumpsters of his job for a couple of seconds, only for Luke to tell him that he shouldn’t be there and push him away.

Emmett deserves better.

There’s a twist near the end of this book, but I didn’t find it that surprising. Early on in this book, I had a prediction. I had wanted to write down when exactly I formed a prediction, but I seem to have lost that note for myself. But either way, this book reveals a twist at 91% of the way through that ends up being the exact detail I had predicted. I think anyone even vaguely genre-savvy would be able to pick up on this twist, as it seems very obvious.

But maybe that’s just me.

As much as I liked Emmett’s side of the story, it just can’t make up for the rest of this book, and I have to rate this entire story two stars.
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I loved this so much! Both Luke and Emmett's storylines were complex, unique, and compelling. A sweet summer romance, a reflection on the history and future of country music, and a heart-wrenching look at the complexities of coming out. A wonderful addition to queer YA lit!
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Okay, this book warmed my East Tennessee, Dollywood-loving heart. Brian nailed this story with two protagonists that stole the show in completely different ways!

I loved the dynamics of this story, the complicated mess of emotions that exist between two people trying to figure out if what they have together is worth the trouble (you’ll have to read to see the answer to that!) and all of the intense questioning and self-reflection that come with it.

Wanda World is clearly a love letter to Dollywood, a magical place at which I’ve spent countless hours in my life. Brian gets the atmosphere SO right, and it was delightful reading a story set in a similar place.

This book will definitely appeal to Robbie Couch and Phil Stamper fans with its wit and tenderness, as well as Julie Murphy fans, with its healthy dose of Southern charm and tribute to all things country!

Bravo to Brian on a fun, charming debut that left me very emotional in several spots toward the end!
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Aww, this was so fun!!! I grew up listening to nothing but country music., From Tim McGraw to the Chicks to Reba to Brooks and Dunn, 90's country was my shit. My tastes have changed pretty much 180 since my childhood, but this book brought me right back to those days of sitting in my old 2000 jeep at the barn, listening to country music. Loved the references throughout, and both Luke and Emmett were fully fleshed out characters who had unique voices. While there is **thankfully** no shortage of queer teen romaces these days, this one is certainly as standalone in the best ways.
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was... something.

You know what, let's just get right into it-

Plot:
The plot was actually pretty good, as it combined two of my favourite things- cooking and music. And then there was the entire Wanda Jean mystery and every thing, so that was a plus too! The plot was actually something I'd give four stars out of five. The point five would go because of instalove, and the plot becoming incessantly cliched at the end.

Characters:
For some reason, I did not like Emmett. Like I think he was meant to be the likeable one, and Luke was the grumpy one, but that just didn't work out. There was a line in the book, where he goes if he had to choose between his music career and Luke, he'd choose Luke, and that was just a big.. no. I mean, I get that he loved him and everything, but he was just 17! Any practical person would not throw their career away for love at 17! That was something that irked me very much.

Writing Style:
This is where the book lost most of it's points for me. There just wasn't a depth to the writing, and the things flew too fast for me- nothing was explored completely. And like, there was so much potential to the plot, but it just wasn't covered.

You should still read it if you're looking for a cute gay romance!
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