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As Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank Me    by Nanci Kincaid Amazon.com order for
As Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank Me
by Nanci Kincaid
Order:  USA  Can
Back Bay, 2005 (2005)
Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Nanci Kincaid's As Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank Me concerns Berry Jackson's thirteenth summer in the small town of Pinetta, Florida. Berry's life has been pretty normal up until this point. She was always a good kid who did well in school (her daddy was the principal), sang loudly at the Methodist church on Sundays, and spent her days playing in a run-down old car with her next door neighbor. However, her ordinary life gets turned upside down one fateful summer, when everything she has ever believed in comes crashing down around her.

It all begins when the school's prettiest student, Rennie, returns after being absent for a year. Everything seems normal at first, but soon the small town is torn apart by gossip and Berry's world begins to crumble. First, one of the upstanding Baptists in the town confesses to having an affair with the Methodist minister. This closes the Methodist church and leaves Berry's mom heartbroken, as the minister moves back to his hometown. Then, Berry's father is lost one night driving Rennie home during a hurricane. When a chain gang comes to town to repair the roads destroyed in the hurricane, the hole in Berry's heart is temporarily filled by a handsome young convict. Throughout the turmoil, Berry learns a lot about her family and herself and comes out of it a stronger person.

Kincaid's writing reminded me of two novels I read the summer I was 13 Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird and Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. (Incidentally, both these books are suggested by Kincaid for further reading in the Reader's Group Guide at the back of her novel.) Like these two authors, Kincaid pulls the reader in with a simple, nostalgic story that never reverts to sappiness. Her characters are beautifully drawn and well-rounded. She does not end Berry's story on a happy or sad note, but rather it's realistic, with life going on for better or worse. As Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank Me is a thoroughly engaging coming-of-age novel that will stay with the reader for years to come.

2nd Review by Sally Selvadurai:

Pinetta, Florida small town, upright, religious, unspeakably hot, but this is only on the surface. Underneath this veneer of backwoods normalcy there are the typical stories that local gossips love to spread, whether they are true or not. It is against this background that we meet thirteen year old Berry, and her family of two brothers, her mother and the father who, as the principal of the one school in the district, gets to visit with each family in the school at least once a year.

Berry's family seems normal enough as they struggle through yet another exhausting summer, but their lives are turned upside down when their father does not return home the night of a horrendous hurricane-like storm. They have to learn to cope without a father present, and with the whispered rumours about his disappearance. At the same time, Berry herself struggles to come to terms with her suddenly changing body, having sensations and feelings that are at times totally alien while at others they seem oh, so right. Her family cope in their own ways; her mother seeks the company of another townsperson whose wife has disappeared, while her oldest brother begins to treat his girlfriends as sex objects, ignoring them until he wants to use them again.

Berry becomes fixated, as many young adolescents do, on a young, handsome convict who has arrived in the town to help rebuild after the storm. Throughout the late summer months Berry spends hours dreaming her dreams as her body takes her quickly into adulthood, and personal perceptions and interactions in her family and the larger community change completely.

This story has a delightful small town feel to it; the heat, humidity and oppression of the climate makes everyone sluggish and wilted, but there is nothing sluggish about the story, which moves along at a reasonable pace while still retaining the minuteness of detail that one would expect in sleepy-town America.

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