Synopsis: In Nowhere, Indiana, the highlight of the year is the Practical County Fair. The Ryans raise steers for the fair each year. Since Libby’s brother Ronnie is at Purdue, she gets a chance to prove herself to her dad by raising a winner. She picks out two calves for her to raise… really, her favorite picked her. Her granddad believed the cow with an attitude would be a prize winner. Libby reluctantly humors him. She names them Piggy and Mule– Piggy is “hers”, and Mule is the stubborn one everyone else likes. Her mom also convinces her to do the Beef Princess Pageant, which she’s not thrilled about, but the winner gets scholarship money.
Libby and her BFF Carol Ann are also determined not to let the Darling family get on their nerves, but it’s difficult. The Darlings– named Precious, Lil, and Ohma– are very… eh. Precious and Lil are beauty queens who have won the Beef Princess Pageant for many years. Ohma is exactly the same age as Libby, and she’s a tomboy that has an unpleasant personality. The Darlings are obnoxious, and not very good farmers/ranchers. They never take care of their calves, and this is a major sticking point for Libby.
Libby continues to grow fond of Piggy, but she can take or leave Mule. She slept in one fateful Saturday when Piggy gets her leg caught in the fence and therefore broke it. The family decides to sell Piggy at market weight. Now all the hopes of a blue ribbon are on Mule, although Libby lacks faith in Mule. Slowly, though, Mule starts growing on her, and his potential becomes obvious.
The fair date arrives, and Libby is ready to go with a champion steer and has a thrift store pageant dress that says “I’m Libby, a non-ruffley representative of the cattle industry.” The cattle show went very well for Mule, who won best in his category. When Carol Ann and Libby go to take care of Mule later, Libby notices the Darling cows. Precious and Lil’s cows are in terrible shape, and while Ohma’s cow looks like someone attempted to take care of it, it’s bloated and needs to see a vet. Sadly, Ohma’s cow dies. Libby visits Mule later that night and sees Ohma crying. She loved her cow Roberto, and is tired of living in her sisters’ shadows when she totally doesn’t fit in. Libby tells Ohma about what happened to Piggy, and they relate to each other.
The next day, Libby is showing Mule again in another show when she notices something different about Precious’s cow. It’s… actually a completely different cow, and she finds the other cow hidden away. Precious threatens Libby and makes her feel bad about the thrift store dress. Ohma turns in her sister, and the Precious Darling gets disqualified. Mule wins second best all-around, which is better than expected. Then it’s time for the pageant! Libby does well enough, but another girl did much better. The Lil Darling is dethroned from being Beef Princess and the spokesperson for that county. Even if Libby didn’t win, she was happy.
Mule has to be sold, because that’s the point of raising him for the fair. Libby makes a sad goodbye, but Mule just wants to move forward. Ohma becomes close friends with Libby and Carol Ann. And since Libby has proven herself, she gets to pick out two calves for the next fair…
(I’ve had this in my drafts, waiting to be posted. I subbed for a reading teacher a couple weeks ago for a few days. Silent reading time x 4… yeah. A classmate’s thesis showed that if teachers “drop everything and read” the students are more likely to participate. Love it…)
- Thought the Darling names were hilarious, but I’m always a sucker for a good pun. Gag-worthy puns, but hilarious.
- There were a few non-plot related details about the Ryan family that I need to share. For example, Libby’s little sister has imaginary grandkids, Eugene and Esmeralda Emily.
- The family, as indicated, plays a part in the beef industry. After Piggy gets hurt, Libby impulsively decides to be a vegetarian. That didn’t last long, as it was very impulsive.
- Even though Libby wouldn’t have recognized it, she and Ohma have a lot more in common than the love of their first calf. Libby is desperately trying to win respect after her big brother Ronnie has raised many a calf. When Ronnie goes off to college, her dad is not confident that Libby can do it. Ohma is kind of a bulky tomboy compared to her older, gorgeous sisters. She’d actually be good at raising calves if she had any guidance.
- Also, I’ve always felt bad for farmers since I imagine raising an animal for meat would be a bummer. My stepmom had a story about some family coming over for dinner that gave them a chicken. When they asked how the chicken was, they had that awkward, “You tell us…” Yuck.
Grade: B My husband’s family lives on a retired farm and my sister-in-law would love to take the lifestyle up. However, I grew up in the suburbs and while I enjoy country life, I’m by no means a strapping farm girl. It was a nice perspective to read from, versus the city-chic, gossipy nature of some girl-centric books. It was a story that kept it simple, and I appreciated it.