Debut author Brian Kennedy swings for the fences in this charming debut about a pair of teens who get more than they bargain for when they accept jobs at Wanda World–a campy amusement park themed after charismatic country musician Wanda Jean.
Think Dolly Parton/Dollywood.
Emmett Maguire, an ambitious 17-year-old from the Chicago suburbs, deams of being country music’s biggest gay superstar. He idolizes the legendary Wanda Jean and jumps at the chance when a family friend gets him a summer job performing at Wanda World in Jackson Hole, Tennessee.
17-year-old Luke Barnes, a Jackson Hole native, despises Wanda Jean for ruining his grandmother’s life. The family is forbidden from listening to country music or going to the theme park. But Luke is an aspiring cook and when a kitchen job at Wanda World lands in his lap he has no choice but to take it behind his family’s back.
Despite their differing opinions on Wanda Jean, Luke and Emmett share an instant attraction and form a close relationship as they to make the most of the summer and all the challenges it has for them.
Kennedy has a great voice for the fun romcom elements and mixes the romance and quieter coming-of-age stories perfectly. This book is doing a lot but it does it exceedingly well.
In some ways this book feels like two stories. Luke, who is gay but doesn’t feel safe being out, is living an angstier story where he is in constant fear of his family finding out his secrets. While Emmett’s perspective is more like a plucky rom-com where he’s met the southern boy of his dreams and is on the way to landing a record deal.
Oh and they also solve a mystery. It sounds like a lot but it works.
Mark Sanderlin and Andrew Gibson do a phenomenal job on the audiobook and were perfectly cast. They both have a casual youthfulness to their voices and keep the southern accents grounded.
Luke’s mother has multiple sclerosis and this is the second book I’ve read where a mother has chronic MS. While I can’t comment on the rep, it seems like it’s often mostly used as a reason why the young male character has a caregiver role in the family. I’m not sure I see this much with young female characters in YA.
I’m a lifelong reader who started blogging about YA books in 2011 but now I read in just about every genre! I love YA coming of age stories, compelling memoirs and genre bending SFF. You can find me talking all things romance at Romance and Sensibility.