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18 Jun 2012

Review: Like Mandarin by 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, 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.

Definitely could relate to the good girl in total awe of the wild, confident one.  People like Mandarin and the girls I knew were the idols for shy girls like me and I could relate.  It's an easy thing for a timid girl to be obsessed with or idolise so the whole concept is realistic.  It doesn't matter what a super star you are at school and how good you behave.  Sometime when you see that wildness in someone else who doesn't seem to care or worry, you envy it.  And that envy turns to something that you want as well. 

The voice was always Grace's and not once did the author seem to poke through to speak instead of their MC.  In previous books I've read the narration can sometimes sound a little too formal for me and I can never find the character's personality anywhere but Like Mandarin had a strong voice.  Grace wasn't a passive character and she moved the story.  She developed but didn't develop into a whole different character.  Grace isn't the type of character who goes off the rails and gets into serious trouble.  She takes Mandarin's wildness and uses to it start gaining some confidence and taste the freedom that she wants so overall she can make the ultimate decision: stay or go? While Grace comes out of her shell, she learns to be confident in her own ideas and views.  She's not afraid to live but she learns to not be afraid to speak up for things she doesn't want.

I did wonder if this book would be the good girl turns bad until she comes to her senses and ditches the bad girl.  I had a huge big fight in my head at the end with Mandarin really flipping out.  The book surprised me.  In a positive way actually with a sort of bittersweet ending for both of the girls and you do wonder if it really is the ending.  What else could happen between them? Mandarin isn't completely out of Grace's life and you also wonder about Mandarin.  What's the next step in her journey? If the narration wasn't first person I would have loved to get into Mandarin's head.  The world and society around her have affected her and she's not just a bad girl who mouths off.  She's angry and observant of the society around her and she doesn't like it.  She has something to say about it.

Overall, a fantastic read.  I devoured it quickly and can't wait to get stuck into Wanderlove. I do think the mother was probably the reason for four stars, seeing her as OTT at times but that's just a minor thing that I wasn't a fan off.  I'd still reread this book and read more from the author.


  1. I read WANDERLOVE last month, and now I think I need to get my hands on LIKE MANDARIN. She's a really great author, and I'm looking forward to reading more of her stuff. Thanks for the great review!

  2. I almost wanted to quit writing when I read LIKE MANDARIN. Okay, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but Kirsten Hubbard's writing is exquisite. Just right for the tone and the voice. My efforts looked like drool in comparison. :) I look forward to reading WANDERLOVE at some point in the not-too-distant future. Good review, Robin. :)

  3. @ Colin: Aw, we all have those moments! Remember, writing is about finding YOUR voice. :)

    It appears that I really, really, really need to read these books.