Book Reviews

[review] Like Mandarin – Kirsten Hubbard


Release Date: March 8, 2010
Publisher: Delacorte Press Books
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

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.

Discovery: I follow Kirsten Hubbard’s blog so when she started talking about her debut novel, I decided to give it a try.

+     Setting. Kirsten is a travel writer, which shows in her gorgeous and accurate descriptions of Washokey, Wyoming. One of my favourite things about this novel was how the town came alive around Grace, painted with the dull tones of a small community. The first sentence is a perfect set-up for the tone and mood of the novel: The winds in Washokey make people go crazy. The idea that the climate around us has a hand in making people who they are is a unique concept in YA fiction and I would love to see more of it. I’ve also never been farther west than Pittsburgh, so novels about these states are always a welcome surprise.

+     Themes. When I started reading this book, I figured it was going to focus on the friendship between Mandarin and Grace. More than that, the mother-daughter relationship was paralleled beautifully, in my opinion. In both relationships, one is trying to pull away and prove they don’t need the other person, who is trying to hold on as tightly as they can. I was far more interested in Grace’s interactions with her mother and sister because I think she has far more potential as a character that way. Grace is a young girl, the kind that Mandarin was once and wants so badly to be again. I loved the scene where Grace realizes that Mandarin wants to prove that she doesn’t need anyone but needs so badly for people to see that. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Mandarin wanted Grace to be just like her, but I do think that Mandarin wants to be like Grace.

–     Flowery descriptions. It didn’t happen often, but just enough that I noticed when the writing seemed to overdo it with description. I’m not a big fan of sentences just describing a single dress. Description needs to serve a purpose and as much as possible, it should complement the dialogue and characters.

Recommendations: Like Mandarin is a great coming-of-age story for YA readers and I would definitely read Kirsten Hubbard’s next book.

Rating: Good.

Go check out Kirsten Hubbard’s website and follow her on Twitter @kirstenhubbard.

You can check out Like Mandarin on Goodreads and order it over at Amazon and Book Depository.

Next review:  Like Mandarin, Kirsten Hubbard

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