7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
The very first thing that captured my attention in LIKE MANDARIN was the prose--so lyrical and poignant and intense. Every page packed a punch and had me rereading lines over and over to better absorb the beauty. Hubbard paints such remarkable images with her words--images that are startling in their lush simplicity. There's one image in particular that comes to mind from the very beginning, that of Mandarin as a child looking intense and far too old-soulish for her young body--an image which just grabs you by the throat and sets the tone for the entire book.
The story is actually told through Grace's point of view, which was a bold move on Hubbard's part. For one thing, Mandarin appears to be (at least on the surface) the most interesting character. She's the one with all the problems, the attitude, and the mega guts sans glory. Grace, on the other hand, is not one to challenge the status quo, just getting by until one day she can go off and do something important (leaving her mother, an irritating, wealth of humiliation, behind). But even though the story is named after Mandarin, the issue at hand isn't really Mandarin at all. It's Grace and her search for identity (with and without her mother), which is spurred on (and possibly hindered) by Mandarin. For a YA novel, this was a brilliant choice. Establishing one's identity is the bane of adolescent existence. And as troubled and possibly dangerous as Mandarin is, she doesn't doubt who she is or what she wants. So even though Mandarin has a story, it plays out on the sidelines. Ultimately, we get to witness Grace's evolution, her coming into being and all the difficult steps and stumbles it takes to get there. Through Mandarin's eyes, this story likely would have felt more adult and more hopeless. But through Grace, just like her name implies, there is a sense of hope (even in those low moments).
So, let me just say...freaking fantastic characterization. So sharp, so genuine. Both Mandarin and Grace are such distinct characters, shaped from seemingly different molds. Yet their stories are so perfectly intertwined, often running parallel.
Here's what Mandarin does for Grace: just by her existence, Mandarin helps Grace to uncover how unhappy she really is. Mandarin embodies (and reflects outwardly) that discontent and pain that Grace carries around inside of her all the time, and Grace can't help but respond to that. Indeed, both of them suffer a claustrophobia which is so intense it's palpable--but it's in response to different things. Mandarin feels trapped in the rinky-dink town--a feeling I know all too well. That feeling of desperation to just get out, not because there's anything inherently wrong with the town or even it's size, but because you are wrong in it. Grace's claustrophobia is probably even more tragic, though, because the thing she's desperate to escape is herself. And she sees something in Mandarin that makes her think perhaps that's her ticket to do just that. But what she will have to discover, if she's ever to find her identity and self-respect, is that strength cannot be given from one person to another. It can only be borrowed.
LIKE MANDARIN is a soft, graceful sort of book, like the stir of a warm breeze, but just as eloquent and refreshing. So moving, and so breathtakingly timeless. It will resonate with teens and adults who remember their teens for years to come.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
The Short Version:
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.
The Extended Version:
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.
The setting is incredibly telling and vivid, bringing to life the small town in Wyoming where Grace lives. From the obsession with pageants to the endless rumor mill, the way of life and physical locations are all very well described. This is certainly an example of the place almost becoming its own character, and the way it's shaped both Grace and Mandarin comes through just as strongly. The desperation to escape not only the trapping town but the people in it is often present, showing in sometimes subtly striking ways, and helping drive home the deeper messages of the book.
Hubbard's writing is gorgeous, giving a strong narrative voice to Grace and building her mentality while still giving the reader insight into other characters, the setting, and the events. Few clichés in wording are present in this book, making some of the unique phrasing to stand out even more. This, coupled with explosive scenes, a distinct setting, and phenomenally built characters, makes Like Mandarin a stunning and memorable novel.