Book Reviews

[review] Bittersweet – Sarah Ockler

Release Date: January 3, 2012
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 378
Format: Hardcover
Source: Personal copy purchased from bookstore

Once upon a time, Hudson knew exactly what her future looked like. Then a betrayal changed her life, and knocked her dreams to the ground. Now she’s a girl who doesn’t believe in second chances… a girl who stays under the radar by baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner and obsessing over what might have been.

So when things start looking up and she has another shot at her dreams, Hudson is equal parts hopeful and terrified. Of course, this is also the moment a cute, sweet guy walks into her life… and starts serving up some seriously mixed signals. She’s got a lot on her plate, and for a girl who’s been burned before, risking it all is easier said than done.

It’s time for Hudson to ask herself what she really wants, and how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it. Because in a place where opportunities are fleeting, she knows this chance may very well be her last…

Tell Me More: Sarah Ockler’s first novel, Twenty Boy Summer, wasn’t as impressive as I thought it would be, so my approach to Bittersweet involved less expectations and a bit of apprehension. The cover copy is actually quite vague compared to most YA novels and I wasn’t sure what I was actually going to be reading. Once I started, however, I couldn’t stop myself for anything.

I’ve noticed that most contemporary novels are character studies more than anything else. Since there isn’t an entire universe to familiarize oneself with, it’s easy to cut through and pay attention to the characters and their motivations. Hudson’s lost her motivation, and Bittersweet details exactly how she learns to find it again. Of course, the story begs the question: why does she need motivation in the first place? What else has she lost? The prologue explains her father’s “betrayal” in a few short pages. It’s an incredibly emotional punch in the gut for both Hudson and the reader. Ockler’s prose starts out strong and remains consistently compelling throughout the entire book. It’s a credit to her that Hudson is so well-rounded, and it gives the themes of the story the gravitas they deserve.

The idea of sacrifice is one of the novel’s big considerations. Hudson is always caught between one sacrifice or another to keep her life going. She’s her mother’s go-to person for everything, but she can’t resent her mother because of the genuine necessity of her help. Her brother needs her, so she sacrifices her time to care for him. It’s easy to forget that she’s 16 years old and having a crisis of her own. Identity is also a theme that Bittersweet ties into Hudson’s life: do her sacrifices keep her from being who she really is? Is she destined to remain the Cupcake Queen of Watonka or an ice skater? Themes like this make it even more important for a writer to provide a developed protagonist, because otherwise, why would readers care about her inner conflict?

As much as people might say it’s a shallow story about cupcakes and teenage love, I heartily disagree. Sarah Ockler has managed to write the story of a girl who needed to find something about herself worth loving, without a boy or social norms hovering over her. Hudson is a quiet comet in the sky, bright and indomitable, and I loved that she learned to appreciate herself and her talents.

That’s Not All:

  • Cupcake recipes before every chapter will leave you extremely hungry. Do not read on an empty stomach.
  • Ockler has a great gift for fun dialogue. I found myself giggling more often than not while reading this book.

The Final Say: Don’t be fooled by the pastel colours–Bittersweet is an intense and heartfelt read, with characters that will stay with you past the final page.

You can visit Sarah Ockler at her website and follow her on Twitter @sarahockler.

You can check out Bittersweeton Goodreads and order it from The Book Depository.

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6 replies »

  1. I love the cover of this book, and reading this review makes me realize that it is also a fitting cover, which makes me really happy! I love that there are cupcake recipes too. I just finished reading Like Water in Chocolate which is part cook book part narrative, so this idea is currently really interesting to me.

  2. This one is on my TBR…and hopefully one day I will be able to splurge on it, or find it on mark-down somewhere. For some reason it just calls to me. I agree with you about the character study aspect in contemps, and I think that’s part of why I love them SO much. You get time to get to know the characters, instead of having to identify with their plight say like in a dystopian, etc. So that aspect of the book I’ll probably fall for, especially the way you talk about all the character growth on Hudson’s part.

    I’m so glad to see a good review of this one. I’m also glad you brought it (back) to my attention, Angel!

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