When I picked this book up in Target a few weeks ago, I was quite taken with the chick in the sneaker/combat boots and poofy teal skirt hammering stars into…nothingness. I flipped it over and read the back…and started reading the book proper, right there in the Target aisle. I got through two chapters before I put it down, and that’s only because I had to go to work and didn’t have the money to buy it. Luckily, my library had it.
If I had to, I’d probably give this a 3.5 or 3.75 stars, but since we don’t have that finely tuned ranking system, I’m rounding up to 4. I have a penchant for Southern fiction and while this one was charming, funny, and packed an emotional wallop, it wasn’t anywhere near such books as The Help or Calling Me Home (you can click on the title to read my review on the latter). It is, however, solid and entertaining.
At the center of the novel is the Queen herself…Queen Elizabeth Wake. Or Queenie, as she’s known to those from the small Texas town she and her sister Merry Carole grew up in. The two girls had the misfortune of being born to the town slut, something which has understandably impacted their lives in many ways. For Merry Carole, she slept with a boy from the right side of the tracks too young and not for love and wound up pregnant with a bastard child. However, that child grew up to become a high school freshman starting quarterback in the town which, if you don’t know Texas and football, is a Very Big Deal. Almost enough to redeem Merry Carole in the eyes of the town.
But the narrator is her younger sister, Queenie, who’s spent her life running from her own right-side-of-the-tracks-but-doomed love Everett Coburn. I thought one of the sweetest things was how she nicknamed him “Ever.” You just so want to put the “for” in front of it. Queenie is a chef and flew the coop of her small and vicious town when she was 18 to become an opinionated, bitchy chef in cities all over the country. Because she can’t stop herself from yelling at people for having the gall to put ketchup on her eggs, she doesn’t hold a job for very long.
The novel opens with her getting fired from her latest gig in NYC and realizing that without a job and the hotel room that came with it, she has nothing left really and nowhere to go. Nowhere but home. So she comes home and moves in with her sister, just in time to see her nephew awarded starting quarterback. She also gets offered a job making last meals for inmates who’re about to be executed. That’s a twist on the down home Southern fiction I’ve read. It adds complexity, an interesting new love interest, and lots of time to work out her difficult past through culinary masterpieces.
The dialogue in places practically snaps off the page and either hits you like a refreshing glass of sweet tea (mostly Merry Carole’s and Queenie’s interactions) or bitchslaps you like a perfectly coifed GCB (Queenie vs. the town Mean Girls.).
I drank this book in over the course of about two and a half days and might buy it in the future because there were some realizations about love and getting over your past that hit me kind of personally. One of the best was the line “I need to start believing I’m worthy of being courted.” It’s a revolutionary thought to someone like Queenie, who’s spent her love life being a dirty secret and, to borrow a line from the Kushiel series, “a whore’s unwanted get.”
There were a few places here and that the text didn’t quite flow properly and I had to go back and reread certain pages, but overall, I enjoyed the book and recommend it to any fan of Southern fiction or fans of sister chick lit.