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Monday, May 2, 2011

Review: Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard.

Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

Delacorte Press Books for Young Children
Publication Date: March 2011
List Price: $17.99
ISBN-13: 9780385739351

Review: Stuck in the small town of Washokey, Wyoming, hoping to escape and find that there is something more to the world than horrid pageants and the same old kids in her class, is Grace, a brilliant sophomore in Kirsten Hubbard's edgy novel, Like Mandarin. Grace is a studious girl who has a rebel hidden inside. It came out once when she was younger, being forced to parade around at beauty pageants, and it yearns to come out again. Grace keeps to herself; she doesn't seem to fit in with her old friends anymore, and she doesn't really seem to care. But, her life changes when she is asked to tutor the most rebellious senior in the school - Mandarin.

Mandarin's character encompasses everything that Grace is not. She is promiscuous, she drinks, she breaks every rule, and she doesn't care. What brings her to Grace, however, is her teacher's hope that she'll graduate. Grace has always idolized Mandarin from afar, and when her teacher asks her to help Mandarin finish up her graduation requirements, Grace is both exhilarated and terrified. But, it doesn't take much for Mandarin to break that fear and encourage Grace to leave her comfort zone. Before long, Grace is hip deep in one of the most explosive and dangerous friendships imaginable. She releases the rebel and has the time of her life stealing animal-head trophies, skinny-dipping, and exploring the world. But, does Mandarin go too far? Grace has won a highly coveted spot in a summer leadership program in Washington, D.C., but Mandarin has other plans for her - she wants Grace to forget D.C. and escape with her to California. Grace wants nothing more than to escape Washokey, but is she really to leave everything behind?

Like Mandarin is an engaging novel. The setting is utterly unique. Not many stories for young adults are set in the Wyoming Badlands. The descriptions of the Washokey landscape and the importance of beauty pageants help to paint a highly vivid picture of why Grace wants so badly to escape. Like Mandarin is also a good relationship story. The relationship between Grace and her mother is probably very similar to many teen girls' relationship with their mothers. Too often teens and their parents stop really communicating, and instead simply coexist. Like Mandarin works through that relationship and emphasizes the importance of family - whatever that family structure might be. This is shown also in Mandarin's lack of a relationship with her own mother. Finally, high school is a search for identity - which is what Grace tries to find. Hubbard does a wonderful job showing this struggle. For example, Grace says, "Now I scowled at my reflection. Behind me, my bed bulged with a mountain of mismatched pillows. A row of swans Momma had cut from pink flowered contact paper trailed along the tops of my walls. My carpet did not quite make it from one side to the other, leaving a strip of floorboards exposed. My computer was a neighbor's hand-me-down. The stacks of novels on my shelves came from the junk shop and garage sales. Except for the plastic show boxes of rocks stacked beside my dresser, hardly anything about my room reflect me. Not even my reflection." How many times do teens today feel the same? They will be able to identify with Grace as she is tempted by Mandarin to give up everything she believes to be right and follow her need for adventure. They will be pulled in by Mandarin's intrigue, just like Grace, and they will race through page after page to see how it ends.

Review written by Margo Nauert (6th grade teacher).

We would like to thank Random House for providing a copy of Like Mandarin for this review.

Have you read Like Mandarin? How would you rate it?

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