Hardcover, 320 pages
Released: March 8, 2011
Publisher: Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
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.
My Rating: 4 / 5
It took me a good chunk, maybe 100 pages, to be convinced that this book was worthy of all the buzz I'd heard. For those of you that follow my blog, you will know I like happily ever after and to be honest, a majority of this book isn't. I thought I had gotten in over my head but when I finished that last page, I was floored, the arc of the story was beautiful.
Grace and Mandarin couldn't be any different. Grace is the naive, smart, reads books and collects rocks. Mandarin is the town slut, works at her dad's bar, is failing school, beautiful and full of attitude. What do they have in common? They are both teenagers growing up in boring old Washokey, Wyoming and being teenagers they are searching for themselves.
Grace comes from a loving family that includes her mom & little sister. The fascination with having the girl's win Pageant shows is her mom's life...and ultimately what draws Grace and her apart. Mandarin is who Grace admired from afar, literally. It is a school project that pairs Grace & Mandarin and from which their eyes are opened & they discover a bit of who they are.
Dark and raw, this book portrays teenage innocence perfectly by contrasting two polar opposites. Everyone knew Mandarin and Grace was in awe of that. It doesn't matter if the attention was good or not, it was attention. Grace had lost herself trying to hide under the radar for so long, trying to blend in and not stand out. I think we can all relate to this. As much as Grace saw freedom and confidence in Mandarin, she discovers that what you see can be skewed by your personal desires & soon comes to realize that Mandarin is vulnerable.
Like watching a loved one fall, sometimes this story was hard to read. Knowing that Grace was making up for lost time, trying to get out there and live a little bit, but with Mandarin's influence you knew it was a lesson to learn the hard way. I didn't connect that well with the characters, (well unless you count the fact that I despise Mandarin for being totally selfish) but the message of the story is clear..and growing up never is easy.