Today I'm talking about LIKE MANDARIN, by the insanely talented Kirsten Hubbard.
I love the simple beauty of the cover:
And here's how the publisher describes it:
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.
Which is a pretty good way of explaining the plot. But definitely does not fully convey what makes this book so incredibly amazing.
It's THE WRITING! Kirsten's elegant way of putting words on a page.
Reading this book kind of feels like sitting in the sun on a breezy day, sipping lemonade. You drink in the tart, sweetness of every word, soak up the warmth of the characters and still feel refreshed by the soft, steady rhythm of the story. Every sentence is perfect. The way she describes the wildwinds, and the badlands, and the dusty, small town, and the pageants--and MANDARIN. Oh man, she totally makes you understand why Grace wants to be like Mandarin. And she manages to keep Mandarin's sense of mystery, even as we get to see more sides of her.
(The only downside to that was that by the end, I kind of wanted to throw my laptop off a bridge and just accept that I would never, EVER write that well.)
Basically, this book is wonderful. Real and honest and heartwarming and amazing. I don't like to put undo pressure on a book, but I have to say I see GREAT things coming for LIKE MANDARIN. The story, writing, and characters are all worthy of awards, and I can't wait to see which lists and honors it manages to snatch up after it debuts. And from this point on I'll pretty much read whatever Kirsten decides to write. Yeah...it's THAT good.
But don't just take my word for it. See for yourself. When I was at ALA I managed to snatch an extra ARC from the lovely people at the Random House booth--and I'm giving it away to one of you!
To enter, just follow my blog and leave a comment on today's post by 11:59 pm PST on Saturday, January 22. I'll draw one random winner and announce the name on Sunday, January 23rd. International entries welcome!
For more awesome book recommendations, see what the rest of the Bookanistas are talking about today: