The next installment of our 2011 Debut Author Challenge is a book that I've waited AGES to read. I've entered so many contests that I was lucky enough to win the pre-order as well as an ARC. But when I finally got Kirsten Hubbard's Like Mandarin in the mail, I was a little...nervous. Why?
First, what if this book didn't live up to the hype? I remember waiting eagerly for a book after reading so many great things about it only to feel like...whomp whomp. I didn't want Mandarin to leave me feeling underwhelmed.
Second, I really like Kirsten. We're friendly over the interwebz and she even spotted me at last year's LA SCBWI conference and gave me a hug. What if I didn't like her novel? I'd feel awful!
Luckily, I didn't have to worry about that because this book is AWESOME! So awesome that I had to come up here and share it with you guys despite still being a little hazy post-surgery.
Here's what Goodreads has to say:
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.
Top Four Things You Need to Know About Like Mandarin:
1. It's realistic fiction. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of other genres (In fact, I just swooned over Across the Universe here)--but me and Quita's first love is and always will be realistic, contemporary fiction. Kirsten writes a true coming-of-age story, and though I've never stepped foot in Wyoming, it's like I've met these characters before.
2. No boy comes to the rescue. Yeah, I like a good love interest every now and then, but sometimes boys just aren't needed (shocking, I know). There are definitely good and bad guys that enter Grace's life, but they don't change or define her. Mandarin holds that power, and it's refreshing to read a story about the evolution of female friendship.
3. Well, whaddyaknow, the mom is an actual character. There's been a lot of talk about how there aren't many parental figures in YA. While this never had any bearing on whether or not I liked a story, I love how Kirsten makes Grace's mother so real. She's not perfect, but she's not some exaggerated monster, either. She has her flaws but there's no denying she loves her children--and I couldn't help but smiling when Grace realizes that, too.
4. You, too, will want to be like Mandarin. I mean, who hasn't had a "Mandarin" in their high school? You know, the girl that everyone trash-talked but secretly envied. My Mandarin was actually named Vanessa. She was probably just as beautiful as Kirsten described Mandarin, and she drove guys crazy. However, the more I got to know her, the more human she became--and I love how accessible Mandarin becomes at the end of the novel. We see her layers, but she still intrigues us. That's talented writing right there!
If you like...
Books: Her and Me and You by Lauren Strasnick, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald...then you'll like Like Mandarin
Movies: Sixteen Candles, Thirteen, Can't Hardly Wait...then you'll like Like Mandarin
If you've read Like Mandarin, what are your thoughts? Have you ever wanted to be like someone else in high school?