Like Mandarinby Kirsten Hubbard
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,
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.
Mandarin Ramey is the girl everyone wants to be or be with. Everyone in the tiny town of Washokey, Wyo., is obsessed with Mandarin, but no one as much as Grace. At 14, Grace is bookish and awkward, the exact opposite of the wild and carefree Mandarin. When they are paired to complete a school project, it is a dream come true for Grace. Mandarin helps Grace find freedom, encouraging her to dance in the blizzard of cotton falling from the trees, skinny-dip in the canal and liberate the animal trophies decorating the grocery store. As Grace begins to emulate Mandarin's dress, attitude and wild ways, she must also confront the darker side of her new friend. Mandarin's life is steeped in fear, liquor and a large helping of lies. Grace forgives Mandarin at every turn, but a final betrayal proves nearly impossible to get past. The sparse landscape is the perfect backdrop for the richly detailed characters that populate this coming-of-age story. Grace's escalating relationship with Mandarin is so raw that it is painful to watch at times. Unfortunately, Grace's character is often overshadowed by the much more provocative and interesting Mandarin, making this more Mandarin's story than Grace's. An attempt to present Grace's take-away lesson at the end feels artificial. This is a good story that would have been better with a change of focus.(Fiction. 12 & up)
Read an Excerpt
Only Weep When You Win
My little sister, Taffeta, peered through a kaleidoscope as we walked to school, her face tipped back, her exposed eye squinched shut. She'd found it in the alley behind Arapahoe Court. Since she refused to give me her hand to hold, I led her by the mitten clipped to the sleeve of her red plaid jacket.
"Stop pulling, Grace," she complained. "My mitten's gonna get yanked off."
"Then pay attention to where you're going."
With her eye still pressed to the battered tube, Taffeta shook her head. She looked like a cat with its head stuck in a Pringles can.
"Fine," I said, releasing her mitten. "If you slip in a patch of slush and crack open your head, don't come bawling to me, all right?"
There wasn't any slush left, though. A few weeks earlier it had clogged the gutters like congealed fat, but by now the last of it had melted.
No matter the season, Taffeta always dragged her feet during our morning walk. She hated school with a passion I never could understand. Her kindergarten classmates adored her, just like the judges of every beauty pageant she entered. She had immense brown eyes and hair the color of baby-duck feathers. A legendary music in her voice. People approached us on Main Street all the time just to hear her speakwhich my mother loved.
"Everybody just wishes they had a gift like hers," Momma often said.
As a child, I'd resembled Taffeta, even though we were just half sisters. But whatever in me had appealed to pageant judges had long since vanished. My childhood softness had become a skinny awkwardness, as if my fourteen-year-old self had been nailed together from colt legs and collarbones. My hair was the yellowy tan of oak furniture. I french-braided it every morning to ward off the wind, but pieces always broke free and whipped my face like Medusa coils.
"Taffeta?" I called, realizing she was no longer beside me.
I found her crouched beside a fire ant pile, using her kaleidoscope to poke at the few creatures braving the early-spring air. Twin splotches of mud soiled the knees of her white tights. I sighed, knowing that Momma would find a way to blame the mess on me.
"Taffeta, get up," I ordered.
"Don't call me Taffeta. Call me Taffy and I'll come."
"Taffy's awful," I said, although I didn't think much of Taffeta, either.
"If you don't get up, I'll freak out."
I started toward her. But my boot skidded in a slick spot, and I had to grab the chain-link fence so I wouldn't fall. I glanced around wildly and decided nobody saw.
"I need to tie my shoe," Taffeta said.
She refused to let me tie them for her, so I crossed my arms and waited. I could already see the school building all the kids in Washokey shared: a faded brick rectangle from the olden days, set against a panorama of dry hills and open range. Endless space. A dead planet.
I'd wandered through the Washokey Badlands Basin so many times I'd memorized the feeling. The forlorn boom of wind. A sky big enough to scare an atheist into prayer. No wonder cowboys sang about being lonesome. Yet somehow, I felt part of something significant out there, collecting mountains whittled into stones to carry with me, like pocket amulets.
I dug in my tote bag until I found that day's stone: a hunk of white quartz the size of a Ping-Pong ball. It wasn't anything special, but I liked the feel of it. Rounded on one side, rough on the other, small enough for me to close my fist around it.
"Done," Taffeta announced.
I grabbed her wrist, ignoring her protests as I towed her schoolward.
Like always, we paused at the edge of the great lawn, still glittering from that morning's watering. But my stomach knotted up even more than usual. The winners of the All-American Essay Contest would be announced in homeroom.
"Can't I go with you today?" Taffeta asked. "I'll be good, Grace, I promise. I hate school. Todd at my table looks up my dress."
"You know you can't come with me. Just keep your legs crossed like Momma told you."
Taffeta scowled at me. "School is horseshit."
My jaw dropped. Before I could demand where she'd heard that word, Taffeta scampered off toward the other kindergartners, brandishing her kaleidoscope. They swarmed around her like ants to a fallen bit of candy.
I remained awhile longer, squeezing my quartz stone and watching the high school students on the other side of the lawn. At the beginning of the year, administration had decided I belonged with the sophomores, a year ahead of my class, instead of with the kids my age. Like I could possibly fit in any less.
It was as if all the other students spoke some language no one had ever taught me. The pretty girls, who squealed with laughter. The monkey-armed guys in cowboy hats, who never looked my way. The wholesome farm kids, like glasses of milk, and the bored bad kids, who made their own fun. I didn't even fit in with the so-called brainy kidsthe handful of thembecause either they knew how to fake it, to stand out in a good way, or they were weird. Like Davey Miller, who thought wearing socks with sandals was the greatest idea since Velcro.
The bell rang, and the other kids headed for the double doors. I knew that Mandarin Ramey probably wasn't among them, but I searched for her anyway.
Meet the Author
As a travel writer and young adult author, KIRSTEN HUBBARD has hiked ancient ruins in Cambodia, dived with wild dolphins in Belize (one totally looked her in the eye), and navigated the Wyoming Badlands (without a compass) in search of transcendent backdrops. She lives with her husband and their dog. This is her first novel.
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My Thoughts: When you read a synopsis like that, you know you're going to be taken on a journey. Those stories, to me, are amazing. A journey into a new perspective, a new take on life. That's what this one gives. Grace is already to a point of frustration when Mandarin becomes part of her life. Grace is afraid of stepping out there, but Mandarin's carefree (and sometimes careless) spirit causes her to take a step. Grace is swept into a different world with Mandarin, one that takes her away from the world she once knew. While Mandarin has a new view on life, and a desire for something better outside Washokey, she's got this other side to her, one that is a little bit off-kilter. There's something dark about her, but at the same time you want to scoop her up because you know she's dark because of something. Grace tries to ignore it since she wants so much to be like Mandarin, but sometimes ignoring signs can have consequences. Like Mandarin was very much in the style of Kirsten Hubbard--hard not to love. I could feel Grace's struggles of pleasing people and desiring to really live and go outside your box. It's a deep story with twists and it's just perfect in its imperfection. My Rating: Exceptional
I absolutely loved this story. Beautifully written!
This is a great book
Striking and fluid, Like Mandarin brings a new voice to YA with vivid, highly developed characters and a no holds barred plot. Grace is a perfect compliment and contrast to Mandarin, and the connection and dynamic between them is handled flawlessly. Fleshed out with Hubbard's stellar writing, there are some strong messages and a poignant realism within this book. Grace is intelligent and mature for her age, but still on the cusp of strong breakthroughs in maturity. Advanced a year in school to a sophomore but at the age of a freshman, Grace is quiet and keeps to herself. She has a very distinct voice, reflecting this intelligence but still holding the naivety that helps characterize her and factors into some of her decisions and reactions. Grace shows tremendous growth on several fronts, some coming more rapidly than others but each one timed perfectly. Her relationship with her mother is trying and far from perfect, bringing in the strong note of realism Hubbard has infused throughout. Mandarin is a bold and breathtaking character, certainly strong enough to hold her own book and perspective, even through the eyes of Grace. She carries a good front, holds her head high, and remains shrouded in the mystery the town puts her in. Passionate, multifaceted and intense, while seeming to shirk all social norms and hiding her flaws, Mandarin is just as intriguing for the reader as she is for Grace and the rest of the town. Her home life is far from perfect, and she is a destructive mess inside and out, holding as many layers and secrets as anyone, but also goes through notable strides in personal development. The way Grace's view of Mandarin changes as the book progresses is a strong feature, giving beautiful insight into not only Mandarin, but Grace as well. Mandarin reflects on Grace and changes her in ways both sad and telling of the ages, but it goes the other way as well. The subtle shifts in Mandarin come through strongly, more than Grace maybe realizes, leaving a lasting impression on the reader. As things unfold, the reader will come to care about Mandarin as much as they do Grace, and this aspect alone speaks volumes as a reminder to not judge someone simply from the rumors and impressions made without meeting them. The plot is perfectly paced, explosive at some parts and light at others, with both speeds blended masterfully to give the biggest effect. Grace's captivation with Mandarin is deep rooted and well explained, now as much a part of Grace as anything else that makes up her personality and history. While this infatuation with Mandarin and sudden connection to her is the central premise, it doesn't overpower the subplots, or continue needlessly. There are lighthearted and funny moments, and a freeing feeling is attached to many events, but Hubbard also inserts plenty of emotional, more pressing scenes that give an overall solemn air to the book.
Like Mandarin is awesome. Kirsten Hubbard is definitely an author to watch. I can't wait for her next book.
Like Mandarin is truly a work of art. In her very first novel, Kirsten Hubbard tells a tale of two girls in a small town, where everyone knows everything. The words were so vivid, and the writing so unique, I could feel the wildwinds of Washokey rustling my hair and hear the whispers of the neverending, small-town gossip in my ear while sitting in my quiet room. Grace and Mandarin are two completely opposite girls - like the moon and the sun - yet more in common than Grace can ever imagine. So when Grace and the older girl are paired for community service project, Grace embarks on a wild ride filled with tears, anger, happiness, and most of all - freedom. Even if her freedom is shortlived. Because in a small town like Washokey, Wyoming, there is no such thing as freedom in Grace's eyes. Everyone knows your past and everyone knows what your doing right then and there, and when and where. Sure there are places she could go to where no one would see her, but that's not what she wants. I think every girl can relate to Grace in some way. And every girl wants to be a little like Mandarin - a bad girl who everyone thrashes in public and envies in secret. From the cover, to the title, to the very last page, Like Mandarin was full of adventure. How can it not be, when it includes jackalopes? So if you haven't picked up this debut, don't stall, you just can't miss out! -Would I recommend this to anyone? Probably ages 12 and up