Melanie McCullough's Reviews > Like Mandarin

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard
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Jul 07, 11

bookshelves: my-favorites
Read from July 01 to 02, 2011

Okay, where to begin? Maybe the very first line since, as every great book should, it sucked me in.

The winds in Washokey make people go crazy

The prose just gets better from there. It's lyrical, poignant, intense. Beautiful. It's everything that I, as a writer, aspire to achieve and that I, as a reader, feel honored to experience. Hubbard had me re-reading lines and highlighting passages in an effort to understand their simple brilliance. Nearly every line is a wonder, ripe with the power to squeeze your heart or kick you in the gut.

The setting is almost surreal and is a testament to its importance in all great works of fiction. The dry, barren wasteland that is Washokey lends itself to the story. Works its way into the cracks and crevices, filling every gap and hole, leaving a seamless surface that becomes as much of a character as the people who inhabit it, and makes the story one that could not have taken place anywhere else.

Characterization in Like Mandarin never falls short. Each character, from Grace to the random drunk stumbling around a parking lot, was written in a way that acknowledged their unique histories and complexities. They felt like living, breathing human beings. People that you know, love, or ignored at some point in your life.

Grace herself is a smart, mature, 14-year-old who harbors an obsession with geology and, as the title suggests, with the carefree, often promiscous 17-year-old Mandarin Ramey. She keeps her head down and dreams of the day she'll get to leave her irritating, selfish mother, her small town, and her small time existence behind.

Mandarin is Grace's opposite. She's rebellious, gutsy, troubled. On the surface Mandarin seems like the more interesting character. And in less capable hands than Hubbard's it would be easy for Mandarin to overshadow Grace, and although this is often how Grace feels -- overshadowed, less than --, it's never felt by the reader. You are painfully aware that it's Grace's story being told. You experience every embarrassment, every bit of anger or frustration, every setback and awkward moment with her.

And while Grace's journey is complicated and sometimes edgy or dark, in the end it's a story about friendship, love, finding your identity and coming to terms with the "you" that you are, and is perfectly suited to a young adult audience that is no doubt currently experiencing, or has recently experienced, the same thing.

There is absolutely nothing about this book that I didn't adore. I'll admit to being a sucker for the supernatural and fantastical. I like to be transported to worlds unlike my own. But a contemporary done right, like Like Mandarin, is a reminder that there is often nothing more complex, compelling or magical than real life and the depth of human emotion.
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