Book Title: A Little Bit Country
Author: Brian D. Kennedy
Release Date: June 7th, 2022
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, LGTBQ+
My rating: 3/5 Stars
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?
When I came across A Little Bit Country, I was very excited for it. The premise looked so cool, and even though I’m not a fan of country music, it sounded like something I would immensely enjoy. And while I did have some issues with this story, ultimately, I did like it.
Right out of the bat, one of the main characters, Emmett, is quick to regale us with his big dreams and determination to see them through. I thought it was nice to see a young person so sure of their goals and ambitions, even if they seemed totally unattainable at times. You won’t know till you try, right? Emmett loved country music with a passion, and this was very apparent through the book. It dictated a lot of his actions and decisions…until he met Luke, that is. (I’ll get to this in a minute).
Then there’s Luke, who was dealing with financial issues at home because his mom was chronically ill and just had a flare up. But to make matters worse, he was also dealing with internal turmoil over being gay, since his family is religious, and he’s convinced they would never be able to accept him if he came out. Luke’s plot line was the most engaging part of the story, in my opinion. He had dreams of being a chef but was too afraid to pursue them because of his family’s situation. Even so, when he saw an opportunity to juggle both of these, he took it.
The connection between Luke’s family and a certain country star was also particularly interesting, and it led to one of my favorite parts of A Little Bit Country: the mystery. There was a lot of intrigue and several questions surrounding this, so the entire time, I was trying to piece the different clues together to figure out what had actually happened, which kept me engaged even during the parts I wasn’t a huge fan of. I won’t say too much about the mystery, because it was so fun during the big reveal, but I will say that this part was so well done. Even though it wasn’t always the main focus of the story, there were still small hints and different references throughout that made me realize it was pointing me closer and closer to uncovering the various questions.
Between Luke’s individual storyline, Emmett’s individual storyline, and the entire plot surrounding Wanda World and Luke’s relative, this was a really solid book. My favorite part of A Little Bit Country was the last 30% when it was more focused on the individual journeys and resolving the mystery, because I was so hooked at this point.
This leads me to my least favorite part of the story, though, which was the romance. I don’t say this often, especially in reference to queer stories, but I kind of wish there hadn’t been a romance. I know a large part of the story was Luke dealing with his sexuality, which Emmett certainly helped him with, but I think this could have been done just as well as a platonic bond.
Part of my issue was that I never really felt the chemistry between the two, and their relationship progressed so fast. It felt very insta-lovey, which I’m not always a fan of. My least favorite part of the romance, though, was Emmett’s feelings toward Luke. I understand that teen love can feel all-consuming, but for someone who was so determined to become the world’s biggest gay country star (for most of his life, even), he was awfully quick in considering giving up his dreams for Luke, a guy he’d just met and may never see again after the summer.
I became frustrated during these moments, because up until this point, Emmett had always been so sure in his ambitions, and this just felt so out of character for him. Which is why I feel if the book had focused more on a platonic bond between the two, it could have made the story stronger.
However, I don’t want to say the romance won’t work for everyone because I’m sure it’ll be perfect for others. It just didn’t work for me, unfortunately.
Even so, I don’t regret reading A Little Bit Country at all. The parts I enjoyed, I did really enjoy. As I said before, the mystery part was done excellently, and both Emmett’s and Luke’s individual storylines were so well developed and explored. These parts of the story really made it shine, and as the book ended, I found myself smiling. I also loved the addition of song lyrics throughout. These parts were written beautifully, and even though I don’t like country music, it had me wondering if I should change my mind!
While parts of this book may not have been for me, I just know other people will love it, which is one thing I find so fascinating about reading. So, even if you were really excited about this book and feel a little put off by my review, I’d still definitely recommend checking it out! You may feel entirely different from me.
Thank you to TBR and Beyond Tours, NetGalley, and the publisher for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
About the Author:
Brian D. Kennedy writes books for young adults. Born and raised in Minnesota, he occasionally elongates his vowels still. He now lives in New York City with his husband and their very photogenic dog. When he’s not writing, Brian can be found working at the LGBTQ Center, sitting in the audience at a Broadway show, or out buying more books—despite the stack of unread ones he has at home.
Check out my last blog post: Steve L. McEvil (Tour Post/Spotlight)