Michelle's Reviews > Bittersweet

Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler
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Jan 06, 13

Read from March 31 to April 02, 2012 — I own a copy

Review originally posted here.

Why I Read It: I read this for three reasons: 1) I read and enjoyed Ockler's debut title Twenty Boy Summer and was more than happy to check out more of Ockler's work; 2) I love the cover of this book, even if it's not entirely accurate; 3) I'm trying to read as many 2012 titles that catch my interest and this was one of them (because of #1).

Sarah Ockler sucked me in with her heart-achey debut novel Twenty Boy Summer, which was slow-moving, but gripping as well and had a much tighter focus on grieving, friendship and family than I had originally anticipated. It made me excited to read her latest novel Bittersweet, which was only sweetened by the promise of cupcakes being a part of the story (I love all things cake and cupcakes -- I watch all the shows on tv and read Cakewrecks etc.) In short, this ended up being a really cute and fun novel that struck a nice balance between heavy subjects and lightheartedness that resonated with me.

Hudson Avery, the protagonist of this story, is flawed and conflicted, but ultimately likable. Her struggle with her love-hate relationship with ice-skating felt real, and I loved how layered it was: yes, she loves it because she loves the sport: it's something she's good at and it's what will bring her to greater and better things (like getting her out of her small town); but she hates it as well because it was such a point of tension between her parents, and it was during her big ice skating competition that shit hit the fan and led to their divorce. Even when Hudson made some maddening decisions (especially near the end of the novel), her good qualities and the fact that she felt so real and well realized redeemed her to me, even when I kind of wanted to shake her.

Hudson's interactions with her family (her mother and little brother Bug) were also a highlight of the book for me. She clearly loves her mom but can't on board with her mother's failing diner, but simultaneously wants to help her and keep her happy as well. Her love for her little brother was incredibly sweet and heart-warming and I absolutely loved that kid; his precociousness was endearing instead of annoying, and Ockler struck a nice balance in that the fact that he's still just a little kid comes first. Hudson's best friend Dani and how she fits into Hudson's family (she works at the diner) was also well-done, and I liked her wise-cracking friend quite a bit. It's also always nice to see female-female friendships as tight-knit as theirs, even when Hudson wasn't exhibiting exemplary best-friend behaviour.

Speaking of friendships, I really liked the whole side-story of Hudson training the boys hockey team. Watching the boys go from loud-mouthed arrogant brutes, to loud-mouthed arrogant LOVABLE brutes was really fun to watch, and Ockler never made Hudson devolve into Special Snowflake Syndrome (meaning that Hudson never thinks herself BETTER than other girls or DIFFERENT to other girls just because she hangs out primarily with guys like some female characters are prone to doing sadly).

The only relationships that I wasn't completely sold on were the romantic ones sadly, considering it's one of the focuses of the novel (though I would argue it's not one of the main focuses -- I would say that goes to the family dynamics and Hudson's fraught relationship with Dani). Neither of them were particularly remarkable to me, and the swoon factor suffered for that a little. Will was kind of douchy to me, but I guess there was that whole "bad boy" appeal to him, and Hudson is never entirely sold on him *anyway*. Josh is cute I guess, but like I said, mostly dull. However, while this relationship dynamic IS important to the story, it's not THE most important, so it didn't tarnish the overall story as much as it could have.

Another nitpick I have is with the writing itself. It's written in a first-person from Hudson's POV and sometimes her narration was hilarious and had me chuckling. At other times, especially the beginning of the book, she goes on these really weird stream-of-consciousness and lengthy bouts of narration that felt completely out of place and weird. It usually involved some kind of day-dream Hudson was having, but it got very involved and went on a little too long. Anyway, it was strange, felt out of place, and kind of yanked me out of the story. They seemed to dissipate as the story went on, thankfully.

One last thing before I finish up: if you like sweets (like I do -- I'm a sugar addict) this book will make you SALIVATE. Not only are there snippets about Hudson making delicious sounding cupcakes, but each chapter begins with a specialty cupcake that Hudson has created for the dinner and 99% of them sound EFFING delicious. So what I'm saying is: have some kind of sweets on hand when reading this lest you fall prey to crazy cravings otherwise.

Final Verdict: Like Twenty Boy Summer, this was a rather slow-moving novel that focuses on friendships and family relationships above all else, which I'm more than happy with. There's less a focus on heart-ache though, and has a much more humorous and light tone than Ockler's first novel though, which I'm also perfectly fine with. The book does suffer from a lukewarm romantic subplot, and bouts of strange and out-place stream-of-consciousness writing, but overall, the main character won me over: I loved her relationship with her family and friends, and her struggle to reclaim the sport she loves and all the complications and baggage that come with it. Recommended for fans of contemporary YA who prefer a focus on family dynamics as opposed to romantic ones. OH, and there's wonderful snippets about cupcakes, and I can't stress how much I love cupcakes, so that made me happy too.
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04/01/2012 page 136
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