One teen replaces another at the top of a small-town social pyramid.
Luke Grayson moves from a private school in Washington, D.C., to spend his senior year of high school in a small town in eastern Tennessee with the Baptist preacher father he scarcely knows. Luke's intention is to survive nine months, then flee, but early on he attracts the enmity of local golden boy and star quarterback Grant Parker—but when Grant is injured, Luke becomes heir to his throne, finding himself with Grant's gang of bullies, Grant's former squeeze, and even homecoming king. The book’s first problem is that Luke is a relentlessly unattractive protagonist: entirely amoral and contemptuous of every single person he encounters. The second problem is that all of the secondary characters are cardboard stereotypes deserving of Luke's contempt. His father and stepmother are Southern Baptist parodies, the mechanic who employs Luke (and gives him a Camaro) can't figure out how to enter a password on the shop's computers, and the town's adults flock to the high school's homecoming dance because it's so much fun. None of these details rings remotely true. Race is only partially assigned to a few girls, described as blonde; the default seems to be assumed to be white.
A big disappointment for fans of Spears' other work; for a stellar exploration of the rural South, read Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King (2016) instead. (Fiction. 14-18)