by Kirsten Hubbard
Like Mandarin. Where do I start? How about from the time I saw the cover and read the summary ages (like I mean ages) ago and put it on my wishlist? I’m surprised this book hasn’t gotten more buzz, it sure as heck deserves it. Anyways, a huge thank you to Kari at A Good Addiction, where I won this book in a contest :)
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.
My Expectations: This has been on my wishlist for a long time, but I felt this time, the somewhat mellow hype didn’t get me to skyrocket my expectations. Heard great things though.
Delivery: Oh, I got chills. Just amazing.
Put-down-ability: A bit hard for me to start it, 4/10
This book is… full. It’s hard to describe, it just feels like it’s brimming over with essence and energy from the moment you’re whipped into the story by the winds in Washokey. It feels almost surreal to be so caught up in a complexly simple storyline; Like Mandarin is explosive and impulsive like a shout of laughter, yet reins it all in within a dustbowl of brilliance. This book is damn good.
With a rather simple and somewhat predictable plot, I had to wonder if Hubbard could pull it off. I already knew some of the main events, I could tell where the story was headed… but this is not a story about the ending. It is one about the journey and Hubbard created one that was worthy of Narnie Schroeder*.
Kirsten Hubbard’s writing is impeccable; she manages to create people and places with disturbing ease and elegance, her gritty setting of Washokey is pitch-perfect and intensely atmospheric. Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and stand-out fictional locations in my recent memory. Let me say, it was not hard to find beauty in the badlands! The dialogue flowed smoothly and the adept descriptions of anything and everything enriched the novel greatly.
However at the crux of this novel, it’s the characters that count and this is where Hubbard truly shone. Mandarin Remey, who is somewhat a supporting character on Grace’s journey of self-discovery, stole the show for me. Magnetic and alluring, it isn’t a surprise how Grace, who longs to escape from her confined life, is drawn to Mandarin’s naturally enigmatic beauty. The two characters are both half-lost, half-searching, which brings them together. There are flaws in their friendship, but this is what makes it work. Grace’s almost obsessive desire to be like Mandarin— to encompass her actions, looks and even her speech patterns— was the driving force of the novel.
This has a ripple effect on Grace’s equally fascinating relationship with her family, whether it was the sisterly affection with Taffeta or the stand-offish one with her mother. I believe it was through the juxtaposition of her family and Mandarin that was Grace ultimately capable of finding true beauty and discover herself. Lessons are learned the hard way as Grace will realize that even the most coveted friendships aren’t always meant to be. Also, very, very refreshing to find a book void of romance. You don't even notice it...yay.
There's so many things I still want to touch on and compliment, but I need to wrap this up... how about you just read it and find out?
Rating in HP Terms: Hellz yeah, Outstanding!
Esp. Recommended for: YA contemporary fans, I think you guys will seriously appreciate this.
9/10 – because this is a breathtaking contemporary debut with a ton of soul. While I wish there could've been a bit more to Grace, I think Mandarin Remey is one of the most memorable characters of 2011 for me, and I think at the end of the year, it won’t be the flashy dystopian novel that resonates with me the most; it would be a book like this. “A beautifully crafted, bittersweet story about an unlikely friendship that sets two very different people free.” –Melina Marchetta; I couldn’t have said it any better.
*please tell me someone got the Jellicoe Road reference :)
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PS~ 2 days left to vote, super gorgeous please with cheesecake topping? =)