In Cooper County, North Carolina, a stranger arrives in 1941 with big promises for those who will plant kudzu. Fifteen-year-old Mattie Watson is stubborn, strong, and smitten, and when the stranger, James Cullowee, announces a beauty pageant to crown one girl The Kudzu Queen, Mattie is on board with the excitement in Mimi Herman’s gorgeous new novel.
As Mattie and her younger brother Joey try to learn the secrets of kudzu, other secrets take root in town. Mattie’s best friend Lynette suffers terribly as her ill mother and drunken father struggle to stay afloat in the house they rent from Mattie’s family. Danny Watson, Mattie’s elder brother, is torn between helping on the family cotton farm and planning to head off to college in the fall, and the kudzu king, Cullowee himself, isn’t the smooth and polished star Mattie thought shined so brightly upon their first meeting.
Mattie dreams of being a lawyer, and it is her deep sense of truth and justice that makes the heart of the novel beat. Too often we assign adolescent protagonists to the YA pile, but this is a book for adults that reminds you what it’s like to be young and have to face hard truths for the first time. The Kudzu Queen is a great read for fans of southern literature, especially the novels of Jesmyn Ward and Alice Walker.