Fresh from a series of boarding-school expulsions, Jane, 17, returns to Bienville, Ala., to cap her high-school career.
Residing with Grandmama, who is intent on turning her into a Southern Belle, Jane enters a longstanding beauty—sorry, achievement—pageant, introducing the cream of wealthy, white Bienville maidenhood to society. She’s appalled to be selected as one of five Magnolia Maids; but times are changing. Recovering from a massive oil spill and seeking to attract investment, town leaders hope to project a modern, diverse (post-Emancipation) image. Along with traditional belles Ashley and Mallory, this year’s Maids include Zara, daughter of the African-American communications tycoon who's bringing needed jobs to his hometown; Brandi Lyn, representing Bienville’s disadvantaged residents; and Jane, straddling categories. (Her mom was a town blueblood; her Greek shipping-magnate dad anything but.) When not engaged in Maid duties, Jane obsesses over Luke Churchville, whom she was sent to boarding school to get away from but never stopped thinking about. While diversity is easier to say than practice, the girls discover sisterhood is powerful, and getting even with two-timing boyfriends while wearing hoopskirts is a great leveler. (For best results, avoid vodka.)
Briskly sending up fraying Southern social traditions, this hilarious debut celebrates one value that’s universal: true friendship. (Fiction. 12 & up)