(#98) Book Review: The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski

For Sheridan Wells, the months leading up to her sixteenth birthday are anything but sweet.  Still reeling from being abandoned by her mother years ago, Sheridan buries herself in cake decorating at her grandmother’s bakery.  Her workaholic father is more interested in his restaurant and possible TV deal than in her life, and Sheridan is so single it’s almost funny.  While Sheridan is convinced that connecting with her mom will fix her life, she can’t ignore that there are some serious obstacles in the way: including her father’s intention to move her to New York.

Christina Mandelski’s coming of age tale about a young girl wrestling with love and loss is a pretty basic premise, but good writing and solid plotting make it work fairly well.  Mandelski plays it pretty safe with the actual plot, crafting a story that is enjoyable but ultimately predictable.  However, she takes some risks by creating a protagonist that is not immediately likable.

Sheridan’s story is most compelling when she’s in the kitchen, decorating cakes.  Her passion for the activity is clear, and the description of the process is satisfyingly detailed.  The fact that Sheridan feels closest to her absent mother when she is in the kitchen is a little heartbreaking but helps ground her motivations and obsessions.  Sheridan’s tense relationship with her dad and her obsession with finding her mother feel realistic, but the problem is that there isn’t a lot of change present in Sheridan by the end of the story.  Some readers will get tired of her childish outbursts and obstinate blindness when it comes to her mother.

Which brings me to the weakest part of the story.  The central problem focuses on Sheridan and her estranged mother.  Much of the story is driven by Sheridan’s attempts to contact her mother and the frequent revisiting of birthday cards her mother has sent over the years.  However, readers will see through the plot point as well as the mother’s actions.  This weakens the emotional tension that is supposed to drive the narrative, making for a less effective story overall.

That being said, the novel is still enjoyable.  Recommended for fans of contemporary YA, especially fans of novels featuring detailed information about baking and cake decorating.  I enjoyed this one but wanted it to have a longer lasting emotional impact.

The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski.  EdgmontUSA: 2011.  Electronic galley accepted for review via NetGalley.

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