Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

Title: Like Mandarin
Author: Kirsten Hubbard
Publisher: Ember
Release Date: March 8, 2012 (paperback edition)
Pages: 320 pages
How I Got the Book: Bought it.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: book trailer | author website

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.


Review:


I can't tell you how many times I have gone into a bookstore hoping to see Like Mandarin on the shelves and left the store feeling disappointed that it wasn't. For one reason or another, it seems Barnes & Noble--and possibly Books-A-Million too because I have never seen her novels there--won't stock her books. After reading Like Mandarin and Hubbard's second novel Wanderlove, I think that's a shame. This novel cements Hubbard as one of my favorite contemporary YA authors and I feel her books deserve to be more widely read.

Hubbard's descriptions of Washokey, Wyoming and its residents are deeply atmospheric and ring true. Though I live in a place that does not resemble Washokey in any way, I felt like I was there every time I started reading again. When I went outside during a break from my reading marathon of this novel, I chose to imagine the winds outside were wildwinds and not winds from the aftermath of a tropical storm. Grace's narrative voice is lovely and clear with few to no tripping points to jerk me out of the story.

Grace and Mandarin are both strongly characterized are act as the driving force of the narrative.  Mandarin's naive yet cynical ways when the majority of the town wrongfully labels her a slut make her a standout character, but she never takes over the book because Grace is just as well-drawn. She has her childlike dreams of escaping too and a distant relationship with her mother that constantly hurts her, but she chooses to blend in to hide her pain where Mandarin acts out so she can mask her pain. Their friendship and its constantly shifting nature fascinated me until I'd turned the last page.

It's kind of funny how Grace was already like Mandarin before she started trying to emulate her. She just didn't see how similar they were until she came closer and saw what no one else saw in Mandarin.

But the novel wasn't just about Grace and Mandarin becoming friends, painting the town red, and eventually coming to their respective realizations about life. Like Mandarin was also about two girls with broken families who want to put the pieces back together but have no idea how. Grace's mother seems like a horrible person at first, largely neglecting one daughter to shower all her attention on the other, but she is no cardboard character either. She is far from being the best person, but where the novel leaves Grace's mother, younger sister Taffeta, and Grace herself shows there is hope for their family to come back together.

It's difficult to find words to describe this book. I wanted to bang my head on the keyboard more than a few times while typing this up and as soon as I thought of something I wanted to say, a wildwind blew through my head and took the thought away. This is actually the same problem I had with the author's other novel Wanderlove, which I really liked but never wrote a review for because I didn't know what to say. I can't say there are any authors whose books impress me so much that they tend to leave me speechless.

About a year ago, Hubbard herself made a blog post about the difficulties of being a midlist author, how chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble wouldn't stock her books, and how she was afraid to speak out about it. That post is not only one I highly respect her for, but it's the post that put her books on my to-read list. Those books put her on my to-buy list for any books she may publish in the future.

5 stars!


What am I reading next?: The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal