Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review: Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

Title: Like Mandarin
Author: Kirsten Hubbard
Publisher: Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
Release date: March 8th 2011
Pages: 320
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Bought
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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 rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I think I'm in love with Kirsten Hubbard's writing. Her way with words is simply beautiful. I'm usually a pretty fast reader, but it took me ages to get through Like Mandarin, because there are so many parts where I just had to stop and read a sentence again and again because every word is just gorgeous. The descriptive, vivid writing is what makes Like Mandarin work, even the parts where I was bored by the plot.

I love Grace's character. You know when a character just gets you? How they think all the things you've thought, too, but would never want anyone else to know? Yeah, that's Grace for me. She's so easy to relate to and feel for. Grace has a great, strong voice - I don't know why, but I don't normally imagine someone speaking the words I'm reading, but in Like Mandarin, I could picture Grace easily, and it felt like she was talking to me. 

Then there's Mandarin. Even though I didn't particularly like her, I got her too. I got what Grace sees in her, and my feelings for Mandarin are similar to Grace's. There's something tantalizing and strangely seductive about her character - I wanted to know more and more about her and her life. She's a complex, fascinating character, and I loved reading about each side of her.

I really liked the family storyline in Like Mandarin, too. I always love when family plays an important role in a YA book, especially when there's such an unusual set-up as the one in Like Mandarin. Beauty pageants and small-town life aren't exactly my areas of expertise, so it was nice to read about a world so foreign to me. Taffeta is a great character, and I just loved every scene that included her. I enjoyed finding out more about the mother and her background too, and seeing how Grace's relationship with her mom evolved over the course of the story.

I even loved the descriptions of Washokey. The gorgeous scenery is one of the things I loved most about Wanderlove, and I was a little worried about Like Mandarin, since I thought descriptions of a small town in Wyoming could never live up to those of countries all over Central America. And while they aren't quite as great as the ones in Wanderlove, they're still beautiful. With the help of Kirsten Hubbard's words, I could picture Washokey perfectly. Small-town life is described so well - I felt like I was right there with Grace.

The plot, really, is the only aspect of Like Mandarin that isn't mindblowing. I was a little bored in parts of the novel, since not much happens, and the writing is mainly description and little dialogue. Even though it's amazing, if you're a reader who needs action and a fast-moving plot, Like Mandarin probably isn't for you.

Kirsten Hubbard really does have a way with words. Her writing is the best I've read in a long time. The characterization is rich and vivid, along with the descriptions of small-town life. Like Mandarin is the portrayal of two very different characters, and what growing up means for both of them. I didn't love it quite as much as Wanderlove, simply because the idea for Wanderlove is more unique and fascinating, but Like Mandarin is a stellar novel.

Who are some authors whose writing can't get enough of, who have such a beautiful writing style you don't even care about the plot as long as you can read more of their beautiful words?



  2. I'm so glad you could connect with Grace so well, Hannah! I love when that's the case. I really liked Kirsten's Wanderlove, so I think I'll check this book out too. Awesome review! <3

  3. I loved this book too--the writing was so beautiful, and I especially adored the setting.


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