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.
I read Like Mandarin within one day. At the beginning the story moved fairly slow, but once I really got into it, it picked up and I couldn't put it down. The characters, setting, and the story were all very well done and enjoyable to read about.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD
Grace is a great protagonist, and one that is easy to like. Much of this story involves Grace really finding herself and coming-of-age. There's a huge transformation between the Grace in the beginning and the Grace in the end. Her obsession with Mandarin was fascinating. As the book progressed, I could see Grace changing (from the way she dressed to things she said to the way she acted) and becoming more like Mandarin.
Mandarin herself is a very intriguing character. In Washokey, there are plenty of rumors going around about her, but how many of them are actually true? Even by the end of the book, the readers don't know the truth about all the rumors. Mandarin tells some lies to Grace, including a huge lie about her mother. Once she and Grace become friends, she definitely isn't always the best friend to Grace. Grace and she have fun together, including doing some law-breaking things (liberating the trophies). There is one time at a party at the quarry when Mandarin sets Grace up in a bad situation. This makes Grace start to really question her friendship with Mandarin.
Grace's family is also well written. She lives with her Momma and her six-year-old sister Taffeta. Taffeta is in pageants, and the pageants are an obsession of her Momma. When Grace was young, she messed up her chances to win the pageants, so Taffeta is Momma's second chance. Grace often believes her mom is still mad at for messing up the pageant years earlier. Her mom doesn't pay too much attention to her for much of the book, but there are still some scenes with the two of them.
The setting was important to this book. The book was descriptive about the setting, but not overly descriptive. The winds in Washokey are mentioned in the book. It says that these winds are what make the people get crazy. The small-town setting shapes the plot since Washokey is the type of town where everyone knows everyone, and they all know each other's business. When Grace befriends Mandarin, everyone knows. It's also the type of town where crime goes unpunished since the police trust everyone and assume a drifter must have committed the crime.
If you like YA contemporary, read this book.