Monday, November 10, 2008

Vegan Virgin Valentine by Carolyn Mackler


Mara Valentine is in control. She's a straight-A senior, a vegan, and her parents' pride and joy. She's neck-and-neck with her womanizing ex-boyfriend for number-one class ranking and plans to kick his salutatorian butt on her way out the door to Yale. Mara has her remaining months in Brockport all planned out, but the plan does not include having V, her slutty, pot-smoking, sixteen-year-old niece - yes, niece - come to live with her family. Nor does it involve lusting after her boss or dreaming about grilled cheese sandwiches every night. What does a control freak like Mara do when things start spinning wildly out of control?


Thank you, N!

Funny Quotes: (cos the book is humorous and all :))

"On Valentine's Day, the Spirit Club plastered the school with red streamers and pink balloons and red and pink hearts. It looked like Clifford the Big Red Dog ate a flock of flamingos and then barfed his guts up."

Ah, reading this book reminds me of why sometimes it’s good to ignore the negative reviews. Because, honestly, I only requested it for the title, which I thought was absurdly awesome (as are all of Mackler’s up ’til Guyaholic, which is pretty meh). My expectations were between a rock and a hard place, shot to hell by all the low-ratings on Amazon and GoodReads.

But you know what, I actually enjoyed this book. Very much so, in fact.

So I went back through all the negatives to see what people were on about. Be warned this review will pretty much be an anti-thesis to most of the criticism allotted to this novel. I’ll throw in my “original” thoughts somewhere, maybe, but until then:

Mara is a vegan. She’s also a virgin. Her last name is Valentine. The mystery of the title is now revealed, and given they’re in the title, you’d think these three characteristics would play some big part in the novel. This in mind, I understand, to a certain degree, Criticism #1:

The character’s knowledge of and motivation for the pursuit of veganism were nonexistent.

Frankly, I don’t know that much about veganism and couldn’t care less if she followed that lifestyle out of her own, singularly-formed conscience or if, as it happened, she decided to stop eating animal byproducts because she needed a new focus after her boyfriend broke her heart. Yeah, her foundation’s misconstrued, and I wouldn’t recommend people making every life decision on rebound impulses. But again: it’s veganism we’re talking about, and as it doesn’t play a huge part in my life, I don’t feel the weight of what she did incorrectly or not. (Nor, to be blunt, do I care.) I’m sure other girls have made more serious decisions without substantial consideration.

Though once more: I don’t know any vegans, I’m not a vegan, so this doesn’t hit home. If you hate books where the character is perhaps “gratuitously” vegetarian or vegan (which is to say, she isn’t so into it that she knows the rationale and animal-activism aim for every food she boycotts), perhaps this isn’t the right novel for ya.

Then there’s the question of Mara’s morality. In the beginning of the novel, she’s battling to become the valedictorian, take as many college courses as she possibly can, and enter Yale (early acceptance, baby!) as a second-year student. Her entire routine is dictated by her overachieving self, which in turn was molded by her (well-meaning) parents. Then she begins changing, transforming, undergoing her own sort of awakening. She begins dating a new guy—who, unlike her old boyfriend, respects her—and being with him makes her question why she’s rushing through everything.

So, she ends up dropping a college course, not really caring about schoolwork anymore, and subsequently dropping out of a prestigious summer program to further advance her college credits. She begins thinking about the path she’s on and changing this according to what she sees fit. Yes, this means she’s swayed by the desire to stay with New Guy until the end of summer (thus why she dropped the summer program). But she struggles with all those decisions, questions herself and what her life’s been so far, and you know what? That’s pretty damn admirable. Whether she’s losing her morality or not, I choose not to judge, because I believed Mara was doing what she felt correlated more with what she wanted.

Vegan Virgin Valentine? Good book, as far as I’m concerned. Examining oneself—taking a good look in the mirror—once in a while and asking, “Why?” is never, ever a bad thing. In contrast, I think beginning-of-the-novel Mara was narrow-minded and intolerant. Toward the end, I thought she became more mature and compassionate.


That’s that most important thing, in my opinion: that she came to terms with what she want.

Despite everything, she’ll still be attending Yale with excellent transcripts in the fall. Which goes to show you for her morality. Let the girl have a little fun in the meantime for god’s sake.

When all is said and done, I acknowledge people will always find something to nitpick (and I’m certainly not in the slightest above this). They expected more out of the story, out of the ending, out of Mara. They’ll be judging her morality. (Which I’ll be guilty of doing in a couple of days, with another book. Hah, hypocrisy. Case-by-case basis, grasshopper.) I hope, however, that this review outlined what happens and my perspective on it, and above all, I hope someone, somewhere, understands what I’m saying. The writing was good; the character development was good for what was required of the novel; the self-discovery part was one I related to immensely, especially when Mara realized grades are very rarely the meter of someone’s intelligence, capacity or potential.

What I’m saying is: I thought it was awesome. It’s not for everybody (evidently), but presented to the right set of eyes, this book is quite scrumptiously good. (And funny!)


Anonymous said...

I also enjoyed this book for many of the same reasons you did. I showed it to my die-hard vegan friend because I was curious about her reaction to it, and the book PISSED her off. Like you, she didn't see a clear justification for Mara's veganism and even felt that the book perpetuated negative stereotypes about vegans. (Okay, I have to admit that one of my favorite jokes is, "How do you know if someone's a vegan?" "Oh, don't worry. They'll tell you." My friend actually thinks that joke is funny, too.)

Abby said...

I'm a big fan of Carolyn Mackler. I'm glad you liked this one! Thanks for your review!

Lenore Appelhans said...

Ha! Thanks for the quote Sarah - it's great.

Diana Peterfreund said...

I find it frustrating that vegetarians and vegans have to constantly justify their lifestyle to the point that people are actually pissed off if it doesn't become a big deal in a book?

I have vegetarian characters in my books. For some, their vegetarianism is much talked off and they are militant and hard core about it. For others, it's just something they do and it comes naturally, like that person at your table who always orders the chocolate dessert. You don't need to ask them why. Like my friends who are vegetarian in real life -- some are political about their vegetarianism, and some are just vegetarians. I even know one whose wife is not a vegetarian.

Amanda said...

I loved this book! Carolyn Mackler is just a great author.

Wonderful review!

Nurin said...

I really want to read this one. Carolyn Mackler is a great author ;)

Amee said...

I'm with Diana on this one. Vegans/vegetarians getting pissed off when someone doesn't show enough justification for it is just, well, dumb. Who cares why they do it? Isn't it helping their "cause" anyway?

Anyway! I want to read this too! It seems Carolyn's books always have a lot of low ratings on Amazon. I still plan on reading them anyway. :)

Alea said...

I'm glad you liked this because i totally bought it today. I know, eye roll! Good timing though! I love books about control freaks because well that's pretty much me in a nutshell!

Kelsey said...

I really liked Guyaholic, and haven't read this one, but won't too, even though I would get hell if I brought it home and to school. I'd have to read it alone, lol.

Okie said...

Thanks for an insightful review.

Unknown said...

Yay! Carolyn Mackler rocks! (Believe it or not, I actually used to be her assigning editor at the teen mag JUMP.) She's smart, funny as hell and a damn good writer. Oh, and GUYAHOLIC is actually a great book too. You should check it out. Ditto for LOVE AND OTHER FOUR-LETTER WORDS. xo

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