As Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank Me: A Novel

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9780316009140: As Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank Me: A Novel
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From a place where you don't have to run away to find yourself, this novel's young heroine, Berry, joins the ranks of other memorable and spirited girl narrators such as Bone in "Bastard Out of Carolina," Kaye Gibbon's "Ellen Foster," Lily Owens in "The Secret Life of Bees," and Scout from "To Kill a Mockingbird."

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Nanci Kincaid's As Hot As It Was You Ought to Thank Me is the touchingly honest story of Berry Jackson, a young teenager growing up Pinetta, Florida, home to two churches, a school, and a gas station. Berry spends her days soaking up the lives of her parents, Ford and Ruthie, her brothers Sowell and Wade, and an amusing array of neighbors that include a wayward preacher, a shotgun toting father of six, and the town's (relatively) wealthy businessman. As Berry navigates her way through young adulthood, she unearths a number of truths and lies that will ultimately serve as the foundation for her sense of self. ("It was not really that I longed to be pretty so bad, I swear, it was that I longed to be real. In Pinetta it seemed like being pretty was the one thing guaranteed to make a girl real.")

The book starts off slowly, and some readers may find themselves losing interest in Kincaid's descriptions of Pinetta's long, hot summer days and their inhabitants. However, once the town is hit by a powerful tornado and Berry's father disappears with the town beauty, the pace picks up and readers are rewarded for their perserverance with an exciting tale of mystery and intrigue. The plot thickens when a chain gang rolls into town to help rebuild the roads and the school, and a certain convict steals the heart of Berry and the rest of the townsfolk. Even after his awful crime is revealed, the people of Pinetta can't help but keep a place for him in their hearts.

Kincaid does a commendable job of getting inside 13-year-old Berry's 13-year-old and showing us how no experience is ever truly black or white. In fact, Kincaid is so talented that by the end of the novel, while allegiances may have shifted a bit one way or another, readers will have a hard time saying goodbye to Berry and her supporting cast of memorable characters. --Gisele Toueg

From Publishers Weekly:

Kincaid's fourth novel (after Crossing Blood; Balls; Verbena) is a deliciously intimate portrayal of the sunstruck small town of Pinetta, Fla., as seen through the eyes of Berry, a 13-year-old trying to make sense of adult indiscretions and her own sexual awakening. Berry's father, Ford, is the town's self-righteous school principal; her mother, Ruth, has a crush on the preacher; her good-looking older brother, Sowell, has his "mind... on tits"; her younger brother, Wade is a specialist in "elaborate animal funerals." When Ford mysteriously disappears in the middle of a tornado with Rennie, the town's tragic teenage wannabe starlet, Berry and her family become the subject of much gossip and attention. In her father's absence, her mother shifts her attentions to a rich, hot-tempered neighbor, and Berry develops a crush on Raymond, a smooth-talking convict in town to help clean up after the storm. When Raymond saves Berry's life by coming between her and two rattlesnakes, it's she who fearlessly volunteers to suck the poison out of his leg. Hungry for affection, Berry ultimately gets what she's after, though when she's had it, she's not sure what to make of it. Narrated with childlike honesty and dead-on Southern flavor ("Used to be we would all get in the tub like a can of worms spilled into shallow ditch water"), this is a sticky, sultry gem. (Feb. 5)
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