Reviews for Love and hot chicken : a delicious Southern novel

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

After her father’s death, PJ Spoon leaves her prestigious PhD program to return to her small hometown of Pennywhistle, Tennessee, where she impulsively takes a job in the kitchen of the local Chickie Shak. While she tells herself she’s back to support her mother in her grief, it is clear PJ is dealing with her own significant feelings of loss. It’s not all sadness, though; the silver lining is getting to work side by side with her enticing coworker Boof and hanging out with her best friend Lee Ray. When the owner of The Chickie Shak announces a mandatory company-wide Hot Chicken Pageant, PJ resists until she realizes it is an opportunity to get closer to Boof, who is dealing with her own life changes as she searches for her birth mother. With a large helping of Southern humor, this low-stakes debut is a heartfelt but not maudlin look at moving on in grief. Throw in charming secondary characters, a quirky small town, a lovely slow burn romance, and an endearing main character and you have the perfect recipe for fans of Fannie Flagg and Mary Kay Andrews.

Publishers Weekly
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Hartong’s snark-filled debut mixes a laugh-out-loud lampooning of small-town Southern life with a coming-of-age queer romance. It’s earthy, irreverent, and a hint mean-spirited, and the plot, while not quite an afterthought, is a lightly sketched bundle of implausibilities: PJ Spoon, 26, returns home to Pennywhistle, Tenn., to support her newly widowed mother after her father’s sudden death, abandoning her doctoral studies and an out-and-proud social life in the far more liberal Nashville. She distracts herself from grief with a job cooking at a chain eatery, the Chickie Shak, which has only two other employees: a redhead who calls herself Boof and has “a disposition so sunny it calls for SPF,” and an older woman named Linda who “can be a little testy,” PJ muses, “but I reckon most Lindas are. Every now and then she’ll call somebody sweetheart in a way that makes you want to piss yourself and die.” Chemistry instantly sizzles between PJ and Boof, but a shadow looms over their budding romance: mandatory participation in the franchise’s first ever beauty pageant. The absurd competition for the Chickie Shak Hot Chicken Crown exasperates PJ and Boof, animates Linda (who joyfully experiments with rhinestones), and fosters resentments that forestall conversations all three need to have if they’re going to grow beyond their Chickie Shak lives. The emotional beats are somewhat sporadic, but the one-liners are relentless. Hartong’s genuine comedic gift makes PJ’s story well placed to become a beach-read hit. Agent: Deidre Knight, Knight Agency. (Feb.)

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

An uproarious and understated story of family, friendship, and romance set in the neon-lit haze of a Southern chicken shack. When PJ Spoon’s father dies unexpectedly, she leaves her Ph.D. program at Vanderbilt University to return to her tiny hometown of Pennywhistle, the “pesky pebble wedged into the shoe of Tennessee.” Unable to afford (or unwilling to buy) an urn, she and her mother stow his ashes in a Mr. Potato Head, toting him to important events. Unmoored by grief, PJ stays in town, abandoning her studies for a job as a cook at a hot chicken franchise, the Chickie Shak. When the owner shows up and informs the employees that the company is throwing a beauty pageant and participation is mandatory, PJ has no choice but to compete. Plus, the $1 million prize money and promise of free Chickie Shak for life could convince even the most unwilling participant to take a shot at this “boot scootin’ opportunity.” With the help of her determined mother, her best friend Lee Ray, and a Kirstie Alley Sparkle ’n’ Shine 3,000 rhinestone gun, PJ is ready for the spotlight. However, all the change inspired by the contest and the arrival of a new co-worker pushes PJ to grapple with life after her father’s death. Would he even recognize her as a “Hot Chicken contestant shimmying into a bathing suit and rubbing Vaseline on [her] thighs”? A mystery, a romance, and a whole lot of fried food help PJ find her footing in a world without her daddy. By turns hilarious, sad, and introspective, this cross between Steel Magnolias and Gilmore Girls will appeal to anyone who has searched for answers about life and how to live it in a plate of fried chicken. A clever, heartfelt meditation on grief. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.