Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard
This book sat on my to-read shelf for ages, because I was deep into a reread of Notre Dame de Paris, but when I finally got to delve into it last week, I read it in one sitting. It's a wonderful look into the life of a girl who is desperate to model herself off of the one person in town who is willing to be herself, regardless of what other people says, the one who also wants out of their Wyoming town. But Grace bites off a little more than she can chew with Mandarin, who is older, much more cynical and a little over Grace's head at times.
And oh my lord, I was Grace. I remember each and every girl I wanted to be. Remember nodding at what they said even when it bashed my expectations like Grace and the cowboy-themed dance. The agreeing that yeah, that teacher's a bitch, even though you don't think so, just to get the approving smile? Totally been there. I understand her love for and desire to escape from her hometown. The book struck a very personal chord with me.
The writing is also gorgeous. Kirstin Hubbard is a travel writer, and it really shows. It made me realize how much setting can add to and enliven a story. I loved the little moments when we saw what Grace might be doing if Mandarin wasn't in her life, like going to the dance with the dorky guy who sat behind her.
A few times I thought Grace could be more active, and I was a little surprised by the ending, but I did adore the book overall. The minor characters were incredibly well-drawn. I loved Grace's little sister Taffeta and how well her mother's obsession with beauty pageants was shone. Every little detail went back to the setting and the themes of dressing up to be someone else to try to figure out who you are. Beautiful and poignant.