Friday, October 19, 2012

Young Adult Fiction: Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler

Once again, I am able to come through on one of my many promises from the beginning of the year and cover the most recent novel by young adult fiction writer, Sarah Ockler. Bittersweet is her third novel, and Ockler sticks with her tradition of looking at the issues of teenage girls in North America through the eyes of a first-person protagonist as she attempts to navigate life.

The Situation: Hudson Avery is a fantastic figure skater. I mean this girl is good. Three years ago, when she was still competing, she took the top spot in every major skating competition. In fact, she is so good that the co-captain of the high school hockey team has taken notice. The team hasn't won a game in 10 years, and Josh thinks that by picking up a few tips from Hudson, they actually have a shot. And not only is Hudson a crazy good skater, but she can make a mean cupcake. She makes them for friends, family, school, and even to sell at the diner her mother owns, Hurley's. Seems like Hudson has a few things going for her.

The Problem: The reason Hudson hasn't competed in three years is because on the night of a big competition, she came to the painful-as-hell realization that her dad had been cheating on her mom, and that this was more than likely the beginning of the end of the marriage. So Hudson threw the competition, one in which she was the clear favorite to win, and to the confusion of everyone, walked away from the sport. But one day, Josh catches her skating on the nearby frozen lake while on break from Hurley's, and she is still amazing. So soon a deal is made where she helps the hockey team in exchange for ice time to train at a local arena. If she gets in some serious training and becomes good enough to win the upcoming Capriani Cup, she could win a $50,000 scholarship and be guaranteed a ticket to college, as well as a trip out of her small hometown of Watonka, New York. But skating was something her and her dad tell her mom that not only is she skating again, but that she prefers that to helping out at the diner, could possibly break her mother's heart. So she skates, bakes cupcakes, waits tables at the diner, crushes on hockey boys, and inadvertently pushes her friends away, all while being a teenager struggling to find out what exactly it is she really wants.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel that deals with the issue of the broken family, and the lasting effects it can have on the kids. While living with her mom and little brother, Hudson and her family's main source of income is from the failing diner. And with her dad half the nation away, the only true father figure she has in her life is Trick, the diner's fry cook. Meanwhile, the dad has found yet another woman and only stays in contact through email, or, as if that wasn't distant enough, through his blog. The novel is also about ice skating, and cupcakes, and hockey, and boys, and best friends, but really, I feel like the issue of divorce is what lies behind almost every moment. And Hudson constantly runs scenarios in her head of what "parallel Hudson" is doing. The Hudson who didn't throw the competition. The Hudson that still has her family intact.

My Verdict: I really do like this book a great deal. It is light and refreshing, but still serious where it needs to be. Sometimes there is a bit too much going on, but maybe that is simply because Hudson does have a lot going on herself, and some areas do start to suffer. The novel does have the usual which-guy-will-she-pick moments as well as the necessary how-is-she-going-to-attend-the-prom-and-also-babysit-her-little-brother moment (except there isn't a prom scene, but you get what I am saying). Even so, I think it is well written, and I may like it more than I did Twenty Boy Summer, and that is saying something.

Favorite Moment: At the beginning of each chapter, Ockler includes a short recipe for one of Hudson's famous cupcakes. Every chapter...all 27 of them. Needless to say, I really want a cupcake, like right now. I think one day I will make the "Lights, Camera, Cupcakes!" which include chocolate Coca-Cola cupcakes with vanilla buttercream icing, and topped with buttered popcorn, peanuts, Raisinettes, and M&M's. I have more than a few coworkers who would happily help me devour them (Ashley W, I'm looking in your direction).

Favorite Character: Hudson's little brother Max, or Bug. He is basically the greatest eight year-old kid ever and has a serious obsession with crime shows and negotiation skills that amount to him getting more of Hudson's awesome cupcakes. The kid can practically take care of himself, never rats on his sister, and helps out whenever possible at the diner. If I had a younger sibling, I'd want it to be Bug.

Recommended Reading: Naturally, I am going to recommend Ockler's very first novel, Twenty Boy Summer. Instead of dealing with a broken family, Twenty Boy Summer deals with a family in mourning, and the neighbor next door who is dealing with the loss as well, but for reasons of her own. 

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