Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Can't Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl

Rate this book
Does the quality of a yearbook picture have the power to predict how a school year will turn out?

Riley Houston, once deemed an ugly duckling and social pariah among her classmates, makes a splash in the big pond of Linwood Whaley High her freshman year. Gone are her braceface and haircut of doom as Riley faces her long-awaited chance at love with Brett Harvey: the school’s swoon-worthy quarterback and her next-door neighbor who she’s admired over the backyard fence for years.

Riley’s convinced she’s about to score her first boyfriend, but when she recites a poem she wrote about Brett for her English assignment, her cousin’s adorably awkward best friend takes the bait instead.

Her plan of winning over Brett falls to the wayside as Riley tries to suppress her unintended yet budding crush on Carter Pickett. In a battle of heart and soul, Riley faces the decision to either fight for what she’s always wanted, or be vulnerable and loved for the side of her she’s always tried to hide.

Lighthearted and full of southern sass, Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl is a clean young adult romance that may convince you having a high school sweetheart is still a possibility.

212 pages, Paperback

Published February 22, 2017

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Allyson Kennedy

6 books98 followers
Allyson Kennedy is an author from eastern North Carolina whose main goal for writing is to honor God without sugarcoating the realities of the world. In her time as an indie author, she has written contemporary fiction books for middle graders and young adults, and non-fiction for Christian authors. When she's not writing, Allyson enjoys watching movies with her husband, shooting arrows with her recurve bow, and reading, of course.

Website: https://authoringarrowheads.com/
Instagram: @authorallysonkennedy
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/authorallys...
Books Available At: https://books2read.com/allysonkennedy

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
3 (15%)
4 stars
7 (36%)
3 stars
6 (31%)
2 stars
3 (15%)
1 star
0 (0%)
Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews
Profile Image for Allyson.
Author 6 books98 followers
September 3, 2022
2-21-2022 Update: Can't Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl is currently FREE on all my ebook retailers, from now until February 26th! Grab your copy here: https://books2read.com/carolinagirl

Fans of Sarah Dessen, Jenny B. Jones, and Kasie West will enjoy this young adult romance with sweet, southern flair.

Grab your copy in ebook or paperback here:

This is a standalone novel with characters who live in the fictional town of Grahamwood in eastern North Carolina.
Profile Image for Jes Drew.
Author 53 books445 followers
March 11, 2018
This was a fast, sweet romance with a decidedly Carolina flavor that left me craving barbecue without even mentioning it. The characters were very realistic, and both Trent and Taylor were my favorites. There were some euphonistic explatives- much more innocent then kids use now a days- but other than that, it was clean. The theme and romance are timely- especially for young high schoolers the same ages as the characters and the perfect alternative to today's YA.

I received a copy fromance the author in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for R.A..
Author 31 books88 followers
April 14, 2018
Well, I definitely have mixed feelings for this book, but more about that later!

The Characters:
Riley - she was nice and I'm glad she became not-so-shy! :)
Carter - yes, I loved him!! Countryish and all that! I'll agree with Riley about liking the plaid shirt over t-shirt combo!
Brett - *shakes head*
Trent - ha, every book needs to have a nerd!

The Story-line:
It was okay, but I didn't exactly really, really like it!

Where should I start?
1. I didn't like the dream Riley had - definitely a bit inappropriate. I mean, at least it was a dream, but...
2. Quite a few swear words - too many to be "all right" about.
3. Several kisses and hugs. To basically explain how I feel about this, the Bible has said unmarried couples should not touch. I also need to say, Carter and Riley were rather young do any of this anyway!

I enjoyed some of it, but it's definitely something I wouldn't read all the time. I've never been a fan of reading a lot of romances anyway, but I wanted to try this one! :)
It was a very easy read though. I don't feel I should recommend this because of the romance and swear words, but those who like easy-reads and romances will probably enjoy this. :)

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review
Profile Image for Lydia Therese.
298 reviews2 followers
September 1, 2018
Can't Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl is by Allyson Kennedy.

This was a fun book, however, going into it I wasn't aware that it was going to be a book completely and totally centered on romance. I am not a huge romance person, although I do ship book characters pretty hard if they are cute enough. Just romance completely on its own as a genre, though, is not necessarily my thing.

Riley was likeable. I enjoyed reading from her POV. However, the rest of the book characters felt pretty generic to me, except for Trent, who I loved. He was hilarious.

Really, the issue I have with this book is that it's not very realistic. First of all, I am Riley's age. I am not interested in having a boyfriend until I am waaaaay older, and no boy at my school would even have the guts ask me out. Riley has three guys interested in her at one point. Secondly, I can't imagine being "in love" like Riley at my age, either. There's a difference between "like" and "love" and I had a hard time making myself believe that Riley REALLY loved her significant other or if she just thought she did. I probably would have enjoyed this book more if it focused on Riley's school/family life overall and not just boys, boys, boys.

However, the author herself is very skilled. The writing was great and I hardly noticed any typos. Also, I love the cover! It's adorable!

I'm giving this book 2.5 stars out of 5. However, if you don't have an issue with the things mentioned above, give it a go! I just personally didn't enjoy it much.

**I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.**
Author 3 books40 followers
May 8, 2018
4 Stars

This was really sweet! I was excited to read it, especially since its set in my home state. I'm taking one star off for how young Riley and Carter were (not that a relationship started at a young age can't work out), but it was still very sweet. I can't wait to read more of Miss Kennedy's books.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Olivia Jarmusch.
Author 14 books169 followers
April 10, 2018

Allyson Kennedy is a very talented writer! I have to admit, I was totally hooked from the first line! Her writing style is adorable, and it's nice to read something so spunky and upbeat. I definitely felt like I was reading the diary of her main character, Riley, a High School freshmen. So much YA fiction has a fascinating story-line, yet falls short when it comes to their writing style. Not many authors can write YA realistically and joyfully while capturing true teen and making it feel believable. But but Miss Kennedy didn't at all have that problem! She nailed her main characters voice! She has a true gift for prose, and I'm excited to see what she's going to write in the future. :)


'Can't Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl' chronicles Riley's freshmen year, beginning with the first day. The High School cliche's are pretty strong, mean girls rule the roost, the dorks are teased, the football players are rude and obnoxious; you know, typical Disney Channel stuff. But cliche isn't always bad! Like they say, "Give me the same, just different." This story has a very Hannah Montana, Lizzie McGuire, Modern-Day Disney feel, so if you're into that, you'll enjoy the story. If you can't stand Disney, consider yourself forewarned haha.
The main story-line of Riley's freshmen year revolves around her love life and all the highs and lows and all the drama revolving around that.
The reason I'm not giving it a full 5 stars, is because about half way through the book, after Riley chose who she wanted to be with, I didn't feel like there was much left to hold my attention.


The main character is a Christian, who makes a few references to church, is seen reading a Bible Study book at youth group, maintains a standard of morals she lives by (such as being disgusted by an inappropriate movie at the theater), and talks to God occasionally in her head. The general faith theme is that God is going to work everything out in the end, which is light and fluffy, and just the perfect amount of faith content for some readers. For me, I'm not a huge fan of characters whose faith is kinda on the sidelines, but that's just a personal preference. I know lots of YA readers crave that lighter faith element and don't want anything preachy, so like I said, that's just a personal thing for me.


Guys frequently refer to girls as "hot", Riley ignores conversations that are described as "X-rated" , the word "fart" is used several times, cannibalism is mentioned, tons of pop-culture references TV shows, movies, celebs, etc (I'm not going to list all of those), a kiss described in detail, several minor references to kisses, several instances of the Lord's name used in vain, teasing and bullying among students.


Miss Kennedy's writing style truly sparkles, and like I mentioned above, she certainly has a gift for writing! She writes such fun, snappy, fast-paced dialogue, there wasn't anything boring about their conversations!
I would've loved to see more character growth and faith content, but that's just a personal preference. This was a fantastic debut novel, and I'm excited to see what's coming next from Miss Kennedy!
Following the daily happenings of Riley's life was quite entertaining for the first few chapters, but once the main dilemma "who is Riley going to end up with?!" got solved, I had to kinda push myself to the end. If you're a big Disney Channel girl who wants to read about the misadventures of Riley's love life, then you'll enjoy the Heart of a Carolina Girl! It was a quick, easy read, great for a lazy Sunday afternoon. <3

(I received this product for free in exchange for my honest review.)
Profile Image for Judith McNees.
Author 4 books39 followers
August 6, 2022
Reviewing for my 13 year old daughter

She thought the relationship was really cute. Being that it was written about younger kids in high school it was pretty accurate. She liked that it was set in the last decade, because she said books that are set in current time can get annoying.

Completely clean other than some kissing.
Profile Image for Hufflepuff Book Reviewer.
482 reviews17 followers
December 15, 2022
Another reviewer stole words from my mouth when she remarked, “I went in with zero expectations and came away with a goofy smile and a bucket load of respect for the author's ability.” While Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl does not at all measure up to Allyson Kennedy’s later work, and while her newness as a young author certainly shows, this book nonetheless shines as a quaint, charming feel-good romp from the beginning to end. And this is coming from someone who does not even usually like reading romances—so this makes for quite a feat!

I feel like the best way to structure this review would be to break apart different aspects of the story and evaluate them separately:

Writing, 3 out of 5 stars:
Allyson Kennedy crafts a unique and flavorful narrative voice for her protagonist and that she maintains seamlessly throughout the narrative. We readers grow to love Riley and relate to her so well due, in part, to the writing. Sometimes, admittedly, Kennedy crafts some awkwardly constructed sentences in this book, but my love for the author’s style and Riley’s narrative voice makes up for this! What's more, having now read Allyson Kennedy’s other books, I will emphasize that her writing becomes vastly smoother in her future works!

Setting, 4.5 out of 5 stars:
As someone who has only ever lived in Oregon and California and has never even visited the Southern United States, I went into this book, hoping to get a taste of the south. And, boy, did it deliver! Now, excuse me, Shug, as I go make myself some fried chicken and learn to square dance!

Themes, 3.5 out of 5 stars:
Not many contemporary romances contain worthwhile themes; they tend, in my experience, to merely center on two people pining in their overwhelming limerence for one another. However, Kennedy manages to weave some worthwhile themes into her narrative: messages like the importance of kindness—or confidence in and trueness to in oneself—or the ability of anyone to redeem themselves, no matter their past mistakes. *I’m looking at you, Brett.*. I am impressed!

Characters, 3.5 out of 5 stars:
I love the zany and diverse cast of characters! Riley has a ton of spunk, an occasionally fiery presence, and a wonderful heart—and she is oftentimes hilarious. I love it whenever she gives Hailey a piece of her mind! Trent shines as the nerdy, comic-relief figure. Brett would actually be my favorite character, though—perhaps my favorite character that Keneddy has ever written. I am particularly impressed by the way that Kennedy manages to humanize him; I totally didn’t foresee his character arc turning the way that it did!

The only major character that I am not won over by on is Carter. I do not exactly dislike him, perse—nor is he emotionally abusive—which elevates him above 90% of male love interests YA books. (**cough cough Gale Hawthorne, Edward Cullen, Jacob Black, Tobias Eaton cough cough**.) But Carter simply comes to seem…too perfect, squeaky-clean, and (moreover) sappy by the midpoint of the narrative—to the point of making me roll my eyes occasionally. I do not oppose the occasional “moral compass” character in books, but this seldom works well for a love interest in my opinion. Carter’s only real flaw is that he is far too gullible, which honestly annoyed me more than it seemed to humanize him.

As far as secondary characters go, I really dig Hailey as an antagonist—for her ridiculous persona and her Regina George-esque presence. Hailey might make for a caricature, but let’s face it: we all have encountered one or two Haileys in our lives. When it comes to Riley’s female friends, Taylor is certainly a lot of fun—but Lexie and Adrienne seem rather pointless to the narrative. Nor are their personalities particularly engaging. I feel like Kennedy could have given most of the scenes that she gave to Lexie to Taylor, and the novel would have been better for it.

Romance, 3 out of 5 stars:
The romance is certainly cute in a Halmark-movie-esque way, but I can’t say that I found myself particularly invested in the main couple. That said, there is a romantic subplot unfolding in the background of the narrative that I thoroughly enjoyed! What’s more, the story contains an exceptionally well-executed love triangle. I rarely care for love triangles because they often tend to make one of the competitors unlikable by the end, which makes for such cheap resolution—or else the love triangle causes excessive petty drama. The love triangle in this book does not make either of these blunders.

Plot, 2 out 5 stars:
Plot is the only aspect of Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl that I struggled with significantly—due to the story’s lack of narrative tension. Riley decides whom she wants to be with one-third of the way through the book; she starts dating him less than halfway through. Henceforth, any forthcoming tension is sparing, and it is always resolved rather quickly. From the halfway mark until about 80% through the novel, I was a little bored. I would have loved for Kennedy to present some more challenging circumstances for Riley to navigate in the second half. Narratives thrive on tension—and, even as enjoyable as this book ended up being, it would have been even better had the second half contained more going on.

Charm: 6 out of 5 stars
Perhaps I was a bit disappointed by a lack of narrative tension, but it takes a truly special author to still make their book so gosh-dang cute and enjoyable, despite there being almost nothing going on at parts—especially in the eyes of someone like me, who doesn’t usually like reading romances. There exists something about Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl that simply slapped a smile on my face in a way that few books do; the novel is charming in every sense of the word.

Ultimately, Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina makes for a decidedly charming, feel-good read that I would highly recommend to anyone who aspires to forget their problems and smile for a day.

Note: Regarding objectionable content, some reviewers have rather blown things out of proportion. The closest things to expletives are “heck,” “crap,” and “fart.” The romantic scenes consist of only BRIEF kisses and hand-holding: nothing that you shouldn’t expect in every romance ever written. If you don't want to read about a brief kiss, then why even pick up a romance? There exists no material that would seem even halfway objectionable to the overwhelming majority of Christian readers. Anyone who would criticize this book for such content needs to get a life.
Profile Image for Serenna.
5 reviews
September 17, 2018
This book was awesome! I loved it so much! It was clean book. I really loved the authors writing style. And I really related to the characters. I do wish the they were a little older. Can't wait to read another book of yours! Can't wait to see where God takes the author with her writing.
April 11, 2023
I have an extremely low tolerance for YA romance. It just seems pointless when the protagonists are in high school. This book had way too much YA romance in it, and yes, I know that’s the genre, but surely very few people care to read about fourteen-year-olds finding “love”.

The problems with this book didn’t stop there. Riley at first seemed like the kind of protagonist I would like and relate to, but I never did. She seemed too self-absorbed, never thinking that others might be as uncomfortable as she was and also automatically assuming the girl Connor had a crush on was her (which it was, but she was unusually quick in thinking it), and this trait was never addressed. Connor didn’t interest me that much either.

I expected this to be a Christian book, but other than a few occasional mentions of God (pretty much all the mentions were just saying “it’s God’s will that Connor and I should be together”), I didn’t get that impression at all. He didn’t seem to be an important part of Riley’s life.

Additionally, there was a mean character named Hailey whom Riley railed against and who was eventually sent away from school. I’m not saying that Riley shouldn’t have stood up for herself against Hailey’s cruelty, but I also thought she should have forgiven her as well. However, there was not a single mention of forgiveness.

This doesn’t exactly have to do with the book itself, but surely I can’t be the only one who thinks the drawing of the girl on the cover just looks odd. And I’m not entirely sure what the title is supposed to mean, either. But neither of those have any bearing on the content of the book itself. And despite its problems, I still somewhat enjoyed it due to the high school setting and its fast reading pace.
Profile Image for Kaytlin Phillips.
Author 7 books97 followers
September 30, 2022
Okay, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. One of the main factors being that I love that this book and all of Allyson Kennedy's books are set in my home state of NC, even if they are set on the opposite end of the state from me...lol...go figure. But since I live so far on the tip I'm almost not in NC anymore I can forgive that...haha...

Riley was fun, and relatable.
Carter, I really liked him and if anyone finds a real Carter that's about 20 years old please send him my way...lol...
Trent was amazing...lol...I loved his character! I think if no Carter's are to be found I could settle for a Trent...haha...
All the other characters were really well done and I really enjoyed the banter and the deep conversations.

Just a few non-descript kisses.

A few side word uses of heck and dang, those are used moderately don't bother me as much, my brother uses both quite a bit.

Overall, I really liked this book. I will say I enjoyed reading The Crush by Allyson Kennedy more...but other than that I absolutely enjoyed reading this!!! If you like YA contemporary fiction/romance than this is a book you will thoroughly enjoy!
Profile Image for M. Boyle.
Author 3 books97 followers
July 19, 2020
Allyson Kennedy’s Christian YA novel Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl follows Riley Houston through the ups and downs of her freshman year of high school.
Riley exited middle school as an awkward loner, and she is determined to have a better high school career. Thanks to her cousin Trent, two true friends, and catching the attention of her long-time crush, she’s off to a good start – that is, until her first love threatens to become her first heartbreak. Maybe the cute guy Trent introduced her to will prove to be a better boyfriend. Before long though, evil rumors are flying, and Riley seems to be the target – what’s a girl to do?
The author is a great storyteller, and each chapter naturally leads into the next. The voices of the characters are strong and believable, and readers get an inside look at a shy teenaged girl’s worries. The conversations are a realistic and fun way to get to know the characters.
I loved how Riley’s conscience and friends influence her to take the high road, to not spread nasty rumors, to be honest even in difficult situations, ultimately to be kind, and to use good judgment in dating.
Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl shows a good example of a Christian girl going about her day-to-day and choosing to make right decisions. I enjoyed the novel, and I look forward to reading more works by Kennedy.
Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.