Like Mandarin by Kirstin Hubbard

Book Info
Like Mandarin by Kirstin Hubbard
© 2011 Delacorte Books for Young Readers, New York, NY
ISBN 978-0385739351

Plot Summary
In the barren badlands of Washokey, Wyoming, 14 year old Grace Carpenter lives with her mother and younger sister Taffeta. Beauty is hard to come by in this town, even for Grace’s beauty pageant obsessed mother who is trying the pageant circuit again with little Taffeta since Grace ended her pageant involvement in a dramatic display a few years before Taffeta was born. To Grace, nothing is beautiful in Washokey, except for the mysterious, unabashed and carefree 17 year old Mandarin Ramey who Grace would give anything to be like. Grace had always admired Mandarin from afar, but their unlikely friendship is formed when the two work together for a school service project. Mandarin sees Grace as a kindred spirit, destined for greater things outside of Washokey, and Grace jumps at the opportunity to experience the magic that Mandarin’s life must hold. Mandarin and Grace vow to run away together, leaving Washokey for bigger and better things, but Grace soon discovers that behind Mandarin’s refreshing beauty are troubles and danger. Will Grace truly become like Mandarin?

Reader’s Annotation
Former pageant child Grace Carpenter is looking for beauty in the badlands of Washokey, Wyoming, and she finds it in the mysterious Mandarin Ramey. When their unlikely friendship forms, Grace must decide if being like Mandarin will truly achieve beauty.

Critical Evaluation
Like Mandarin is the debut novel from Kirstin Hubbard, and she pretty much nailed it. Her characters are complex but well developed, with somewhat of a no holds barred in terms of content and dialog. Mandarin is introduced as a mysterious and seemingly extremely self confident loner, but through the course of the book you begin to realize just how troubled and broken she is. The main character, Grace, idolizes Mandarin, having been completely enamored with the idea of her since Grace first noticed her while she was a child in the beauty pageant circuit. Grace grew up to be a book smart and model student, but socially awkward outcast who always seemed to fly under the radar. It was this bland lifestyle that made Mandarin seem so exotic and magical. There were times when I wondered whether Grace’s obsession was simply an innocent intrigue or a legitimate crush, but by the end it was clear that there was nothing romantic involved.

Information about the Author
A travel writer and young adult author, Kirsten Hubbard has hiked ancient ruins in Cambodia, dived with wild dolphins in Belize (one totally looked her in the eye), slept in a Slovenian jail cell, and navigated the Wyoming badlands (without a compass) in search of transcendent backdrops for her novels. She graduated from UCSD with a B.A. in Writing. When she’s not off wandering, she lives in San Diego, California.

Her debut YA novel, Like Mandarin, will be published by Delacorte Press/Random House on March 8th, 2011. Her second novel, Wanderlove, will be published in spring 2012.

From the author’s website.

Realistic Fiction

Curriculum Ties

Booktalking Ideas
How do you feel about Mandarin? Would you want to be like her as well?

Reading Level/ Interest Age

Challenge Issues

  • Foul language.
  • Sexuality, teenage promiscuity
  • Teenage drinking.

Defense options

  • Be aware of your library’s collection development policy.
  • Be familiar with the material in question, and the context of the questionable content.
  • Assert the principles of the ALA Library Bill of Rights, and standards of intellectual freedom.
  • Consult online book reviews, and others who have read the book.
    • As a newer book, there isn’t much information out there, but the author is very active on and has a large following and number of reviews. Also is a good reference for reviews.

Why Included?
Kirstin Hubbard is an author who is local to San Diego where I live, and she was one of the author’s being featured at a YA author panel being held at the library where I am a volunteer. I wanted to read books by the authors so that I could better participate in the event, and they were also perfect to include in my blog project.


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