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.
The colors of this cover just speak to me! It's so....Mandarin.
Oh Grace. Sounds like we are one in the same.
Like Mandarin was one of those books that I literally devoured from start to finish. It drew me in literally from the first page with Grace's description of her hometown and her life growing up. This book is everything that a normal teenage girl faces in her lifetime. From jealousy, to regret, right down to that awkward feeling you get when you just don't seem to understand the relationship between you and your mother anymore. Grace's life is so real, so palpable, that it's hard not to get wrapped up in who she is. There are so many different types of relationships explored in this book that it becomes a whirlwind read and before you know it, it's over, leaving you wanting more.
In terms of characters, this book is a veritable playground of different personality types. Those of you who love character driven books will melt into this book! Grace is nothing at all like a lot of the YA female protagonists out there. She is her own person, and you won't find one bit of whiny or vapid person in her. Grace is just...Grace. A girl who is a little lost, extremely intelligent, and just lonely overall. Enter Mandarin. To say that Mandarin pops off the page is a complete understatement. Where Grace is like a softly blowing wind, Mandarin is like a tornado. At 17 years old, she is promiscuous, openly defiant against all adults, and really doesn't seem to give a damn who sees it.
Grace sees it, and she wants it. She follows Mandarin's every move, watching the way she holds herself and the way she reacts to things. Grace becomes entangled in pleasing Mandarin and trying to continue to be interesting to her so that their "friendship" won't fall apart. If you're starting to think that this sounds like a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, you're kind of right. However it goes so far beyond that. Grace doesn't just want to be with Mandarin, she wants to be Mandarin. She craves that free spirit and the ability to let go of what everyone else thinks. Unfortunately people like Mandarin are often lost and lonely themselves, and Grace ends up in a very manipulative relationship.Truthfully the tension and chemistry between these two characters is beautifully written. If they don't draw you in, I don't know what will.
I'm rambling now so I'll wrap up here. Like Mandarin is a story about relationships of all kinds. Those between mothers and daughters, those between "friends", and even the relationship you have to learn to have with yourself. Kirsten Hubbard's writing shines of the pages in this book, and her characters are sure to grab you and draw you in. I cannot recommend you reading this book enough! Beg or borrow a copy, whatever you have to do. Grace and Mandarin are well worth your time, and I can't wait to get my own copy and read it again.
Title: Like Mandarin
Author: Kirsten Hubbard
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Pages: Hardcover; 320
Source: Received for promotional tour.
FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Final Rating: 5 Keys to My Heart