“That’s Not Hay in My Hair” by Juliette Turner
That’s Not Hay in My Hair is a cute coming-of-age story about sixth grader Jules, who has to leave her small apartment in noisy NYC for a 300-acre ranch in Texas. In the midst of adapting to farm chores, learning how to coexist with snakes and dealing with two grandparents who are constantly bickering, Jules soon finds life on the ranch isn’t so bad after all…and precisely how different a coed school is from her former all girls one.
I often regret how I didn’t blog about life on the farm in all its glory, but I understand that I also wasn’t in the proper mindset to do so.
Turner takes her readers through the excitement, then disappointment, of moving to a farm: not everything is as it seems, and the excitement does wear off. The chores become mundane, but someone’s gotta do ’em. Animals that aren’t yours will make your property their new home. Snakes are terrifying when least expected, but you’ll probably wind up feeling sorry them, because they’re always showing up in the wrong places at the wrong time.
It’s cute. My middle brother, a lover of the country life, would probably love this book. It’s great…
…but ____. It’s complicated. The story is slow, there are ten chapters, including the epilogue…some of the chapters should have been split up. Books can have both long and short chapters. Each chapter is approximately 20 pages, which is fine, but there are so many blobs of text that it makes reading the book feel like a chore in and of itself. The serif font in big blobs of text is not pleasant.
The first half—literally—of the book is all about adjustments and stuff that happens on the farm. Summer break isn’t over until you reach the middle of the book, which is also when the huge action piece/dilemma occurs. If I’m reading slow-start books, I prefer some action within the first fourth of the book; I shouldn’t have to read half the book to make it to the interesting stuff.
I felt as though I was reading a journal. Each chapter can sort of go someplace on its own, this book needs more editing, and there are too many grammatically incorrect sentences…what are they called again? Run-ons?
I don’t understand why the author and Jules have so much in common to the point that it feels like the Mary Sue type of character English teachers were always yelling at their students to avoid writing. I found it odd how literate Jules was, because the middle grade kids I’ve been around aren’t this literate. Jules never seems to get into trouble…she has embarrassing moments, but she never got in trouble in the book.
I disliked how, for too long, I was wondering Jules’ age and where her father was. The latter was never brought up. It was barely addressed and, when there was opportunity for an explanation as to why her mom is a single mother, was completely dismissed, as if it didn’t matter/wasn’t important.
In the last 75ish pages, things start to get lazy—why is “etc.” suddenly being used? Why isn’t it being spelled out (et cetera)? I’ve noticed when a “big” word is used, it’s used again 1-2 pages later, but never again throughout the book; it feels repetitive and as though the word is being used to simply add more vocabulary words in the book, which…again, it’s weird how literate Jules, a sixth grader, is, especially when you factor in the rest of the novel. I also didn’t understand why certain words and phrases were used.
- What is a “typical” Texas accent? This describes nothing; it only enforces the stereotypical Texas accent. I’ve lived in Texas all my life. I moved at least 14 different times during grade school. I’ve met only a few people who have that stereotypical accent. I don’t understand why this wasn’t described better.
- There were a lot of references to pop culture—mostly movies—but it felt like a lazy way of describing something, especially since there is all this talk about watching TV/movies/plays, but Jules never actually does these things in the book.
- Since when do we call buzzards “vultures” in Texas?
- She describes something as looking like a “winged Pegasus but without the wings”. Pegasus is winged; why not just say “Pegasus but without the wings”?
I also felt confused when Jules’ mother put on a shirt about how Texans don’t call the cops because they have guns, but is anti-guns…she wanted their neighbor Sammer’s gun anywhere but near her; it just seems uncharacteristic she’d have it. I also found it odd that, whilst it’s sad when animals are sick and dying, Jules’ mom was…just…not totally accepting of the fact that a beloved animal was sick. It’s weird, because on a farm, where Jules’ mom has supposedly lived before, accepting the circle of life is the first rule. I mean, we had cute adult goats on the old farm, and…well, the dogs ruined that. The farm life is not for the faint of heart.
It’s hard to write this review, actually, because I like seeing young authors crop up; I’d loved to have been able to read books written by authors my age when I was in grade school. But…the book needed more work before it was published—more editing, more consideration, more something.
Thus, I give it three-and-a-half apples2. That’s Not Hay in My Hair has potential to be great, it’s just…lacking. I’m giving 3.5 apples, because I think Turner could have a bright writing future ahead of herself, provided she open herself to critiquing her writing and allowing it from others, then actually looking at how she can make her writing better.
What would have made this book better:
- Jules’ first name was not Juliette/based on Juliette Turner. It’s weird, actually; “Juliette” was used only once, but NOT during the first roll call. I had a feeling it was based on her, and this confirmed it. It didn’t feel like fiction; it felt like The Diary of Anne Frank or What My Mother Doesn’t Know.
- Stronger female leads: I understand neighbors of a rural community help each other; I’ve been there. Thus, the first time their neighbor Sammer helps them, I’m okay with that. However, anytime there is another problem, they have to call for help; the city girls cannot do anything themselves—BIG SURPRISE. What’s worse, the mother is so whiny. Turner talked her up to be this great country gal, but…it was a lie—all of it. She’s whiny and likes the idea of a ranch, but when it comes to actual work beyond feeding horses and cleaning stalls, the mother tells Jules to call for help. Why didn’t they just stay in New York?
- Jules and her mother being religious shouldn’t have taken so long to debut in this book; it felt totally random and out of character and weird.
- What even was the ending? It felt too much like fantasy, in that it didn’t go with the mood of the book. It felt silly and awkward, because Turner is a good writer…she’s mature, but this…the ending was as bad and annoying as Turner’s description of the horse bite on her “…backside…” or “…lower back…” Just say “bottom” or “bum” or, you know, “butt”. It’s only a bad word if you make it bad; I don’t understand why we can’t be mature and technical here, instead running all the way around the actual word…multiple times…
- Smoother transitions; it was too jumpy; some parts of the story had nothing to do with the actual problems; again, it felt like a journal.
- Varied sentence structures
I was really excited to read it, because it was about farm life. I feel disappointed and mislead. This book is ranked for middle school grades; I wouldn’t have read it in middle school, because it would have felt too campy and like vocabulary words were just thrown in. There was a plot about a bully, but it was never actually developed.