Book Review: Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard

In every way, Grace is a wallflower. She is a former child pageant star, who had one shining moment of retaliation where she lifted her dress in front of her entire town. That ended both her days on the pageant circuit and her rebellion.

Since this one memorable outburst, Grace has faded into the background. Not that she's not worthy of notice. She is an awkward beauty, an honors student who has skipped a grade and may skip over another, and is brilliant about science. But, none of this compares to the mystery and larger-than-life, rumor-laden legend that is Mandarin Ramey.

Though the stories that surround Mandarin's life are not exactly savory, Grace is entranced by her. Everything about her confidence and beauty seems exotic, unaffected, and mature to Grace. Wherever Mandarin walks, Grace (and many others in the town) follows with her eyes.

When a teacher places Grace and Mandarin together for a school project, Grace cannot believe her luck. She is obviously uncomfortable around such an experienced, legendary figure, but her curiosity gets the best of her. This is Grace's chance to get to know the girl behind the legend, and to be noticed. Trouble is, Mandarin's life is not as exotic as it seemed and Grace may not like the type of attention she gets. But, either way, her life will be forever changed.

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This was a great book. It wasn't as full of YA drama as other books I've read, and it felt like a true-to-life teen story. I think that Grace's life (and possibly Mandarin's) are more common than not. What smart girl living in small town America doesn't dream of a different life? What uncommon girl living in small town America doesn't have a trail of rumors following her? 

This read was perfectly paced, not too fast and not too slow. I thought that the relationship between Grace and Mandarin was touchingly real and sad all at the same time. I can think of a few Mandarins who live in my town and know more than a few Graces. They felt like real girls to me. 

Also, I couldn't help but be reminded of John Green's Looking for Alaska as I read this book. Grace and Miles have the same starstruck, naive love for their larger than life idols. And, in both books, the idols retain much of their mystery and seem to be truly untouchable. Distant. Unreal. 

I am happy to have read another engaging and well-written Contemps Challenge book. I have another one waiting on my TBR and cannot believe how awesome they all have been. Seriously. Love Ms. Hubbard's writing and characters and I can't wait to read more of her work. Cause there will be more. I just know it!

**Read as part of an ARC Tour from I Read Banned Books**