Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

Tuesday April 26, 2011

Like Mandarin 
by Kirsten Hubbard
March 8th 2011
Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers 
Goodreads summary: 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.

Pontifications... Every awkward teenage girl knows another girl at their high school who they wish they could be more like....popular, outgoing, a wild streak that makes them exciting and a reputation for always having fun.  From the outside this girl's life looks perfect...but what happens when we look behind the scenes and glimpse the reality of whats really going on???

Grace can't believe her good luck when she is paired up with Mandarin. She has always felt overshadowed by her younger sister largely due to the fact that her mother showers her sibling with attention  and obsesses about her child beauty pageants. As their friendship blossoms Mandarin encourages Grace to do things she has never been brave enough to do before...skinny dip, dressing differently and even making plans to run away together. 

The closer they get the more Grace starts to see another side of Mandarin...a scary side that involves drinking, lying and careless, often dangerous, decision making. Grace feels like Mandarin is constantly testing their friendship to see how far Grace will go...but when one of those tests put Grace in a terrifying situation, she finally blows up and confronts Mandarin.

This is a great story and so relevant for today's teens. In a world of peer pressure especially for girls who have all that self-doubt (which is most), being led around by a peer they admire isn't much of a stretch. This is both a coming-of-age and cautionary tale about what can happen when we don't stand up for ourselves and our own values. Teens will totally identify with all the complexities of friendship and peer pressure.

Recommended for ages 14 and up due to drinking, cussing and sexual situations. Nothing is overly graphic but the topics themselves seem best suited for this age and older.