Thursday, February 3, 2011

review: like mandarin by kirsten hubbard

pub date: March 8, 2011
publisher: Random House
pages: 320
source: ALA Midwinter
challenges: debut author, Contemps
appeals: contemporary, friendship, mother daughter relationships,
content: swearing (including many F-bombs), talk about sex, some underage drinking, an incident of sexual assault,

It's hard finding beauty in the badlands of Washokey, Wyoming, but 14-year-old Grace Carpenter knows it's not her mother's pageant obsessions, or the cowboy dances adored by her small-town classmates. True beauty is wild-girl Mandarin Ramey: 17, shameless and utterly carefree. Grace would give anything to be like Mandarin.

When they're united for a project, they form an unlikely, explosive friendship, packed with nights spent skinny-dipping in the canal, liberating the town's animal-head trophies, and searching for someplace magic. Grace plays along when Mandarin suggests they run away together. Blame it on the crazy-making wildwinds plaguing their badlands town.

Because all too soon, Grace discovers Mandarin's unique beauty hides a girl who's troubled, broken, and even dangerous. And no matter how hard Grace fights to keep the magic, no friendship can withstand betrayal.

This isn't the kind of book I normally read. It doesn't romance or humor or high school drama or a supernatural element. But the blurb on the back intrigued me and I've read the author's blog a few times, so I decided to give it a try.

This book was real, and gritty, and sad, and reflected life in a way that was honest for the characters. The ending is hopeful, if not particularly happy, which I appreciated. I was a little worried it wouldn't be so as I got closer to finishing.

This is the story of two lost young women, Grace and Mandarin, told through the eyes of Grace. It was interesting how her perceptions of Mandarin changed as she knew her better, and how Grace herself changed through the association. In the beginning, Grace was more a groupie than a friend, but that changed and when Grace becomes a true friend that is when she's able to help Mandarin.

It's really an amazing book. The langauge Hubbard uses, the descriptions, are beautiful. She is a skilled author. I was amazed at the way she painted Washokey. I knew it, though I've never been there before. Great themes, great characters.
 Like Mandarin reminded me a lot of Sara Zarr's books. That kind of realistic look at life without pretty bows tying up the ending. Just people doing the best they can with what they have. Learning by their mistakes and moving on.


Shooting Stars Mag said...

Nice review. I really want to read this one. It's actually a lot like the type of books I love, as you can see from my latest blog post. If you liked this one you should try out Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert.


Alexa @ Not Enough Bookshelves said...

I'm really excited about this one. Good to know it is as good as it sounds even though it isn't my usual kind of thing.

Kirsten Hubbard said...

thank you for such a wonderful review of Like Mandarin! :)