Author: Kirsten Hubbard
Publication Date: 4/8/11
Blurb (GR): 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.
Grace Carpenter has lived in the same small town her entire life. Her mother forced her into pageants when she was younger but Grace sabotaged her way out of them. Now a sophomore (after skipping a grade), Grace has a few interests (collecting rocks, plotting how she might get out of her tiny town) but she spends a great deal of time stalking being mildly obsessed with Mandarin Ramey. Mandarin, a senior, is rather mysterious. She is known around town for her...loose moral character. Grace finally gets her chance to get to know Mandarin when she begins to tutor her. (If you can call it tutoring, because there really wasn’t much tutoring going on.) The two of them cause trouble around town and Grace learns what it is like to have a reputation. At the same time, Grace feels alienated from her mother. Grace’s father has been out of the picture since her birth and she feels like she lost her mother’s love when she left pageants. Now that Grace’s younger sister Taffeta (no joke) has taken up the pageant rein, Grace feels forgotten.
Okay, enough about the plot. I found the writing to be rather heavy on the description but I didn’t mind. I read this book in a day—and I wanted to finish it, which is more than I can say about a lot of books I’ve been reading lately. I wanted to find out if either Grace or Mandarin came to some life-altering realization about life. (erm, not really) Throughout the story, I was more fascinated with Mandarin than with Grace. This book suffers from Secondary Character Syndrome—when the side characters are more interesting than the protagonist. John Green seems to want his books to have this affliction. (Tiny Cooper, Alaska, Margo Margo Roth Spiegelman) Anyway, I wanted to know more about what made Mandarin the way she is. Her story seemed like it was begging to be told but he could only grasp onto small bits of it through Grace’s perspective. It was frustrating.
There are several aspects of this book that just didn’t do it for me. I don’t want to spoil anyone’s read so I’m going to put them into a spoiler. Read at your own risk: spoilers in original Goodreads review.
I find it rather amusing that I read Unearthly last week and remarked on how few books are set in Wyoming. What are the chances that I'd read another in the same week? Like Mandarin is set in Washokey, a fictional town that seems to be located in the Northeast corner of the state. (Just about every town in Wyoming gets a mention but I couldn't pin it down) Kristen Hubbard describes the town, environs, and weather in such a way that I could absolutely picture it all in my imagination. Then again, I've been through that area of Wyoming several times and I think seeing some of those tiny towns in the middle of nowhere really helps form the picture in my mind. Even if this book wasn't my favorite, I'd really enjoy reading more books set in this town from the author.
Overall, though, I just didn’t find Grace’s story engaging. However, it seems like many other Goodreaders did so it might be a case of wrong book, wrong time.