I just finished reading Kirsten Hubbard’s Like Mandarin this week.
Grace Carpenter, its main character, lives in Washokey, Wyoming. She’s a failed beauty queenlet (by choice), one year ahead in school (not by choice), and has an obsession with dead things. Well, rocks. But rocks have to be the most dead things on the planet, right?
Most of all, Grace wants to be – you guessed it – like Mandarin Ramey.
I want to be beautiful like you, I thought, as if Mandarin were listening.
I want apricot skin and Pocahontas hair and eyes the color of tea. I want to be confident and detached and effortlessly sensual, and if promiscuity is part of the package, I will gladly follow your lead. All I know is I’m so tired of being inside my body.
I would give anything to be like Mandarin.
The story follows an unlikely friendship – one girl wants to leave town, the other seems to own it. I found the book so utterly readable, and I admired every page because I know how much work that sort of writing can take.
Though Grace and Mandarin start out as different as peanut butter and glass, both characters stood strong. In other writers’ hands, Mandarin could have overshadowed Grace, but Ms. Hubbard gave Grace the solid characterization and authenticity that makes you root for her like you know her. Like you are her. And just like the rocks Grace kept so carefully and carried in her pocket, she knew herself. She just didn’t know she did.
The book’s third main character seemed to be the town itself, Washokey, WY – if only through its effect on people: its crazy-making wildwinds, its “badlands” (Grace’s hiding spot), its power to persuade Grace’s mother she belonged nowhere else. In Ms. Hubbard’s deft hands and through her clear, flowing style, Grace’s breakthroughs and Mandarin’s stormy episodes came to life. Even though she seemed so exotic at first, I think we’re all a little like Mandarin.