Like Mandarin promised to be. I'm very happy I decided that I didn't care, because Kirsten Hubbard's novel was completely different and, in my opinion, far more enjoyable.
Protagonist Grace is an awkward, bony fourteen. She is too smart for her Wyoming town full of cowboys, beauty pageants, and dead-end futures. When Grace is paired up for a project with rebellious, beautiful Mandarin Ramey, she is swept up by the prospect of getting attention and finally living. When Grace discovers the roots of Mandarin's behavior, she has to decide if this is someone she wants to follow.
Hubbard's triumph is in her characterization of Grace. Every adolescent has an older girl who she wishes to emulate. I remember an older girl at camp who wore a Colby sweatshirt. For some reason, I thought that was her name (I wasn't brilliant), and thought it was the coolest name in the world. Grace's feelings for Mandarin are similar: she knows her class schedule, she practices sauntering like her, and she keeps tabs on the many men with whom Mandarin is rumored to have affairs. This kind of infatuation is difficult to describe, but Hubbard does it beautifully, making the reader cringe while understanding that this is a part of growing up. I particularly love that Grace's younger sister has the same feelings for her...we are all the cool older girl for someone else.
There are many affecting scenes in the novel, but the one that sticks with me is when Grace is invited into Mandarin's bedroom for the first time. It is described as having scuff marks all over the bottom third of the walls. As if I was a gossipy native of their small town, I immediately assumed it was something sex-related, as Mandarin doesn't deny being promiscuous. When she angrily kicks the wall, leaving another scuff mark, I realized that the truth was so much sadder: this lonely girl is so caged by her identity and the lack of possibilities in her town that she has to lash out. Mandarin's scuff marks on the wall are the residue that remains with me after finishing this novel.
One minor nitpick: While the cover of the novel is gorgeous, it doesn't seem to be a picture of either of the two girls. Mandarin is famous for her black hair, angular cheekbones, and tea-colored eyes. Grace is too young, awkward, and plain to be the girl on the cover. Read the first chapter here and decide who you think it is.