Down and Out in Bugtussle: The Mad Fat Road to Happiness. Stephanie McAfee. Penguin Group (USA). July 2013. 368 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780451239907.
Graciella “Ace” Jones is back in town, that is Bugtussle, Mississippi. She’s left the man she thought was her future all-consuming love and now has to work as a substitute teacher. She’s hoping to be restored to her art teacher status, but Cameron Becker, a first year teacher, has that spot firmly rooted in spite of the fact she’s a disaster as a teacher. Ace’s friend Chloe is supporting Ace’s desire to work as a full-time art teacher, but the baggage of the past is clogging the plan. Ace is an off-beat character, at least she thinks so until she meets another new teacher, Stacey Dewberry, who seems certifiably crazy, that is until Ace gets to know her better and a friendship forms. Crazy and funny galore define these two teachers who manage to survive the sub-teacher-hateful antics of students at Bugtussle High School!
Ace, and her beloved dog, Buster Loo, has moved back into her Gramma Jones’ home where she discovers her grandmother’s flower book with some interesting sticky notes specifically aligned next to certain flowers, a poignant secret leading to one even more shocking and emotional. But that doesn’t come until much later. For now, there are plots afoot at the high school to help Ace in her employment quest, but then suddenly the tide has turned as Chloe has her own problems to deal with on the romance side. Add to that Chloe’s love, Dax, is being called to serve in the military, probably in Afghanistan. It’s crisis time for Chloe who has a secret she doesn’t want Dax to learn unless he tells her she means more to him than a live-in love machine.
Meanwhile, Ace goes on several disastrous blind date which are absolutely hilarious because of the way she describes them, probably not so in reality. Yes, her weight is a definite problem but she’s confident enough in herself that it doesn’t overly concern her. But romance she will find, when least expected, and it is that which changes her dreams, attitude, and future. It parallels the garden she is planting at home, establishing her own flowers with very specific meanings for the reader to discover.
Stephanie McAfee is a hoot! She knows exactly how to present very, very funny scenes, crisis-laden scenarios, and tender moments of support and love that constantly and consistently engage the reader on every page.
Down and Out in Bugtussle… is a great, fun, tender read! Enjoy!