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Book Review: Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler

When Hudson’s parents were still together, she felt secure in her future.  When her parents split up and her dad left town, though, Hudson’s dreams came crashing down.  Now she chooses to stay out of the spotlight she once felt so comfortable in and instead bakes cupcakes at her mom’s failing diner.  As she obsesses over what might have been, Hudson also worries about what will be.  When she decides to give her dreams another try, a cute boy walks into her life.

Sarah Ockler’s third novel offers up much of the complicated family dynamics that make her contemporary YA novels such standouts.  Smart writing, complex main characters, and no easy answers elevate this novel above many contemporary YA novels being published today.  However, something about this novel didn’t stick with me, and it isn’t joining its predecessors on my list of favorites.

It probably has something to do with the stunningly boring love interest(s).  Both Will and Josh were remarkable only in how absolutely unremarkable they were.  For a while, I kept mixing them up (this might say more about me than about Ockler’s story, though).  Neither love interest was at all compelling, and the fact that Hudson struggled to choose one, at least on some level, was fairly irritating.  It felt unnecessary.

That being said, there’s a lot to love here.  Hudson is an extremely flawed character, but her voice is authentic and compelling.  She’s a normal teenage girl who is stuck in a really sucky situation.  Her mother is struggling to support her and her brother, Bug.  The fact that money is tight, her mother is stressed, and many of the household chores fall on Hudson’s shoulders feels believable throughout the story.  Everything about Hudson’s situation feels real.

It is in writing Hudson’s family that Ockler really excels.  Both Bug and Hudson’s mother were well-drawn, complex characters.  The scenes between the three of them were by far the most compelling and well-done.  Readers looking for books about complicated families will be satisfied by the meaty story Ockler provides here.

There’s also some nice commentary on athletics and a love of a sport here.  Hudson’s thoughts about figure skating feel real and are complicated, as they should be.  While Hudson loves the sport, she also hates it, and can’t separate her feelings about it from her feelings about her parents’ divorce.  All of this is exceedingly well done.

This is a quiet, slow-moving story.  Readers looking for huge drama or lots of rising action should look elsewhere.  Mostly character-driven, this story will appeal to readers looking for a quiet coming-of-age story.  It meanders a little, especially in the middle, but there’s no reason that this book won’t be loved by many people.

Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler. Simon Pulse: 2012. Purchased copy.

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