Title: The Beef Princess of Practical County
Author: Michelle Houts
Published by: Delacorte Press, April 14 2009
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Recommended to: Readers 10-13
Overall Grade: B+
Libby Ryan has grown up around beef her whole life: she lives on a farm in Nowhere, Indiana, where her dad raises beef cattle. After all, it's a Ryan family tradition, ever since her grandfather's Irish ancestors settled the land. Now, Libby is 12 years old, and it's time for her to raise her own two steers to show in the famed Practical County Fair, just like her brother did when he was 12, and Libby is thrilled. She picks out Piggy (the hungry, sweet one) and Mule (the stubborn one), and against her father's suggestion, she starts getting attached...even though she knows that at the end of the fair, she'll be saying goodbye. And not only is the pressure rising to win Grand Champion Steer in the Fair, she's also been entered by her mom to compete in the Beef Princess beauty pageant--so not jeans-and-ponytail Libby's thing. Even worse, she'll be competing against the perfect but vicious Darling sisters (Precious, Lil, and Ohma) in both competitions! Luckily, Libby has her best friend and her family at her side...But can she handle the competition and the heartbreak that's coming?
There's not much to say about The Beef Princess of Practical County except that it was a simple, clean, and sweet book about growing up and letting go. The narration was excellent--Libby had a real voice and actually sounded like a 12 year old girl. I could really picture her in my head. In fact, all of the characters were well-developed, but I'd have to say that Frannie (the hilarious little sister) and the Darling sisters were my favorite (plus, I just love their creative names. Brava, Michelle, for that!).
The only thing that kind of bugged me was how a steer would die or go off to be made into hamburgers and the characters would just kind of brush it off. Now, I don't know anything about cattle or beef, but it just didn't feel realistic. Sure, Libby would cry, but if I knew that my beloved pet was being taken away to die, I would be hysterical.
Anyway, I really loved how the plot flowed and moved (I was actually expecting it to drag a bit, but it didn't). There was just enough leadup to the climax, and then the plot settled with a perfect ending (at least, to me). Another plus: the ending rounded things up nicely, and didn't obnoxiously leave things hanging. The plot was realistic and interesting, always keeping me hooked to the storyline, and the dialogue, to me, was the best part: Ms. Houts really captured her character's personalities in the way they spoke.
While The Beef Princess of Practical County might be a little young for some people in the YA community, I still advise you to check it out. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how well-written and meaningful the story was, and I even got a good laugh in a few times. A great debut, I hope to see more from the author in the future.