Margo Berendsen's Reviews > Like Mandarin

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard
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Oct 04, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: ya-contemporary, 2011-my-reads, young-adult, debuts
Read from March 15 to 17, 2011

I'm trying to find something non-cliche to praise this book, in honor of all the great original non-cliches describing Grace and Mandarin and their complicated friendship.

A taste of Mandarin:

She paused a second, backlit, as if surveying her realm. Then she sauntered across the classroom and fell into her seat

A taste of Grace:

Although I liked Ms Ingle [history teacher], sometimes I found myself sneering at our forefathers or extending my middle finger, unseen, in my lap. Then I felt guilty, as if George Washington were hiding underneath my desk.

And a taste of their friendship:

I wanted to ask her to be my blood sister, like back in elementary school, and sense the exact moment when her blood began to flow into my veins. I knew she'd think I was crazy if I asked, though somedays I almost convinced myself that it was happening on its own - Mandarin's spirit draping over me, like fairy glamour.

I wished for the power to destroy whatever monster made her sabotage herself. If one even existed. Maybe it was Mandarin's official mythological creature.

I sort of felt like a third person in the friendship because the writing doesn't just draw you in, it involves you.

Just like the setting: western Wyoming at its rawest, dustiest reality:

weathered old ranch wives yearinging to make themselves lovely for their livestock and husbands

the kind of place where men finished beers first and then paid for the empty bottles

No mention of the grandeur of the Wyoming mountains (I live in Wyoming, one of the reasons why I picked this book up). This story keeps you restless in the windy desert basins.

There is NO romance in this book, and I didn't even miss it. Grace is just newly turned 15 and Mandarin is 17 - a gap of two years at those ages is HUGE, there is bound to be some hero worship going on. Grace is so smart she's been forced to skip freshman year and starts high school as a sophomore; but as a result she's considered a freak by her classmates. Mandarin is considered to be a slut, and she's about to fulfill everyone's prophecy that she'll be a dropout and never amount to anything.

The highschool teams Grace up with Mandarin to tutor her. Grace wants to save Mandarin, but at the same time wants to lose herself into Mandarin's shadow. Nothing is simple or straightforward; Mandarin keeps you guessing. And throw into the mix Grace's controlling mother and a surprising little sister.

There is no fairytale ending but it's still very satisfying. One last favorite quote:

I liked the idea that we left pieces of ourselves everywhere we went, coloring all our important places.
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Aleeeeeza thanks for the quotes--how beautiful!


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