Release Date: March 8th 2011
Publisher: Random House
Buy It: Book Depository
It's hard finding beauty in the badlands of Washokey, Wyoming, but 14-year-old Grace knows it's not her mother's pageant obsessions. True beauty is wild-girl Mandarin: 17, shameless and utterly carefree. Grace would give anything to be like Mandarin. Then they're united for a project and 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. 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.I've been following Kristen Hubbard's blog since way before Like Mandarin was released, and I've owned the book itself for months, so I'm not sure exactly why I stalled at reading it. I think it was just one of those cases where everything I saw said this was exactly a "me" book, one I would completely fall in love with. It wasn't the case of being scared off by hype, like I was with Stephanie Perkins, because this novel hasn't gotten nearly as much as it deserves. It was a case of wanting to save something for later.
Now that Hubbard's second novel, Wanderlove, has been released, I knew saving her debut any longer was getting ridiculous, and I finally picked it up and fell in love. As lovely as the language is from page one, it took me a little while to fall in with the characters, especially Grace. She seems like an incredibly old fourteen year old at times, and she also is prone to saying something when her actions proclaim otherwise. For example, at the beginning of Like Mandarin, Grace says she's not a stalker, then she describes hiding and watching Mandarin go to work... sounds pretty stalkerish to me. But after awhile the minor things didn't matter so much anymore, and as Mandarin and Grace's friendship developed, so did my adoration for this novel.
Like Mandarin is a novel that the reader soaks up, is transported into. I have never been Wyoming, but Hubbard made me feel like that little town was real. It was one of the most beautiful settings I have ever read, and it doesn't surprise me that the author is also a travel writer. Mandarin is also one of those charming bad-girls, like Ruby in Stephanie Guerra's Torn and Nova Ren Suma's Imaginary Girls. The kind of character that may be a terrible influence, but that as a reader you can't help falling in love with. She is sensuous and rebellious. Describing her many sexual encounters, Grace says:
"Mandarin never broadcasted her flings the way other students did. She never parked at the A&W for floats and chicken fingers, or copped feels under blankets at autumn bonfires. All that was too time-consuming. Mandarin treated her men like the apples she bit the good parts from, then pitched; like the still-smoldering cigarettes she famously crushed beneath her bare feet.These are the kind of vivid images that last long after the final page of the novel. This is the kind of book that you think about afterwards. Like Mandarin is not only an incredible debut, it's an incredible novel, and as patient as I was with picking it up, I have a feeling I will be falling into Hubbard's second novel, Wanderlove, in the very near future.
I wondered how many of them she thought about afterward, and which ones, and why."