Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Book Review: The Beef Princess of Practical County

The Beef Princess of Practical County by Michelle Houts. (Grades 4-7.)
Review copy provided by publisher.

(This is a 2009 Cybils nominee and this review reflects only my personal opinion of the book, not necessarily the opinion of the panel!)

Since she can remember, Libby Ryan has watched her older brother Ronnie raise and show steer at the Practical County Fair. Now that he's left for college and Libby is twelve, it's her turn. She knows that she can raise a great steer and win Grand Champion at the fair... and then maybe her dad will notice her, will respect her. Libby can prove to him that girls can do cattle work, too. She can find her place in the Ryan family beef business. But first, she'll have to learn how to let go.

The title of this book was what drew me in originally. The Beef Princess of Practical County. I love it! I admit that the first half of the book seemed kind of mottled to me. I couldn't figure out where it was going. But the end made up for it. The book wasn't perfect, but it was a solid first novel and I'll definitely keep my eye on Michelle Houts.

Parts of the book had me laughing out loud, like the introduction of Libby's nemeses, the Darling sisters. The oldest Darling is named Precious. And my first thought was "C'mon. Really?!" And then I got to this part:

Now, when Mr. and Mrs. Jim Darling named their first daughter Precious everyone in town wanted to puke. I, of course, was not yet born, but I felt the exact same way once I was old enough to appreciate Precious Darling's lack of ability to live up to her own name.

Heh. Okay. I'm on board. Then I got to this part:

Two years after Precious Darling was born there came another Darling baby girl. Lil. Not Lilly, not Lillian. Just Lil. The lady who typed the birth certificate nearly refused. Okay, I wasn't born yet then, either, but that was what everyone always said.

So, yes, I laughed. And I teared up, too. I mean, we know from the beginning that this story is not going to have a completely happy ending. After the fair, the steer are sold at auction. So part of the draw was seeing how Libby was going to deal with saying goodbye to her prize steer.

Something else I really liked about the book was the inside glimpse into the process of raising and showing a steer. You can practically smell the manure (in a good way!) and it was something I knew very little about. I appreciate that the setting is unusual and that made it refreshing to read.

I do have to say that some things felt a little too cute to me (like the name of the town was Nowhere, Indiana). And I wish that the supporting characters had been fleshed out a little bit more, especially Carol Ann, Libby's best friend who makes a few forgettable appearances.

That said, I enjoyed the novel and will definitely look for more from this author. I went into it expecting Dairy Queen (based on the title and setting, I guess), but Dairy Queen it's not (and that's okay). It reminded me more of Linda Sue Park's Project Mulberry.

Check out more reviews at Bookworm Readers and A Patchwork of Books and check out Michelle Houts's super cute website.