Review: Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler

Bittersweet cover

Simon Pulse, 1/3/2012

Once upon a time, Hudson knew exactly what her future looked like. Then a betrayal changed her life and knocked her dreams to the ground. Now she’s a girl who doesn’t believe in second chances, a girl who stays under the radar by baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner and obsessing over what might have been.

So when things start looking up and she has another shot at her dreams, Hudson is equal parts hopeful and terrified. Of course, this is also the moment a cute, sweet guy walks into her life—and starts serving up some seriously mixed signals. She’s got a lot on her plate, and for a girl who’s been burned before, risking it all is easier said than done.

It’s time for Hudson to ask herself what she really wants, and how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it. Because in a place where opportunities are fleeting, she knows this chance may very well be her last….*

This is not a novel to be read without an adequate (and by adequate, I mean approximately 3 dozen) cupcakes on hand. Why? Because each chapter begins with a very delicious cupcake description, a cupcake for every possible problem life throws your way. If you don’t have access to delicious, cupcake goodness, you’ll be in agony for the rest of your reading experience.

THE PLOT

The first fifty pages of this book packs in quite the back story, and it’s one of the few books I’ve read with a prologue that is completely necessary. And let me let you in on what the synopsis doesn’t tell you (and don’t worry, it’s all right there in the prologue): Hudson’s dashed dream is Olympic-level figure skating and the big betrayal is her father cheating on her mother, which ends in divorce.

In a series of fortunate events, Hudson’s life collides with Josh’s, a high school hockey player who desperately wants her help on the ice. But instead of coaching  just  Josh, Hudson ends up teaching all the Wolves how to skate better, the linchpin in their ten-year losing streak. In return, she asks for undisturbed ice time so she can put a routine together for a skate competition that comes with the higher prize of a $50,000 college scholarship.

While bits and pieces of this plot seemed entirely convenient, I’m old enough to know that life does have a tendency to throw what one wants or needs into the mix at eerily precise moments. Of course, what one wants or needs isn’t always compatible. While reading, I found myself continuously doubting which path Hudson should take.

THE NARRATOR

Hudson is a high school girl, the local Cupcake Queen, and under the bizarre impression she can hold the aforementioned title and remain under the radar of her peers.  Her voice, as a first-person narrator, was typical of most other female first-person narratives I’ve read in YA. The action carried more of the story than her narration did.

I must admit to being continuously frustrated by Hudson’s party line: I am not selfish. Or rather, her tendency to change the subject / offer excuses when other characters made a point to mention to Hudson her increasingly selfish behavior throughout the story-arc. This isn’t to say this particular characterization is not spot-on, and there is a very good Moment of Self Realization towards the end that I enjoyed immensely because of this characterization. But still, it’s annoying and a reader should be prepared to want to smash a few of Hudson’s cupcakes in her face.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Much of this book references back to Hester Prynne, and I have no idea why. Yes, Hudson is reading The Scarlet Letter in her English class; yes, plenty of high school girls have felt condemned and ostracized by their peers. But those connections are weak, and often actually missing several larger Points of The Scarlett Letter, and doing nothing to add depth to either the plot of this novel nor to the character of Hudson. There were a few moments where the out-of-place Hester references almost made me stop reading. I feel a need to admit to that here.

The ending (the final two chapters, specifically) made the entire read worthwhile, though. Ockler leaves certain plot lines unfinished.  These plot lines represent realities that Hudson must accept, as they are, for her to make a giant leap in personal growth. I won’t spoil whether Hudson does or doesn’t understand what she’s facing at the end, but that the option is left up to the character, and not easily solved by the author, was especially meaningful.

Rating: ★ ★ ★
*Summary taken from BarnesandNoble.com
Note: this review originally posted on MHLit Society -- found here.
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4 Comments

  1. I read this recently and I enjoyed it. I think I felt more for Hudson than you did when it came to the whole selfish thing, though. It was an impossible situation, in some ways, with her mom and the diner, but here she was trying to figure out what she wanted to do with the rest of her life, you know?

    Mostly, though, the cupcakes were so delicious in my imagination. I may or may not now have a super desire to experiment with cupcakes.

    • I recognize her impossible situation, and like I said in my review, I do think her selfishness was spot-on characterization for her; her selfishness meshed well with Ockler’s plot and larger purpose, and Hudson did have a pretty good growth moment at the end. However, this does not make how selfish she was in her situation any less annoying to me while reading.

      I guess I just expected (from the pace of the book) Hudson to become self-reflective on everything a little sooner. I realize it’s completely unrealistic that actual people be so self-aware and self-reflective, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic for characters to get there. In fact, I think by seeing characters in books do that, as readers we become more aware of when, in real life, we should stop and have self-reflective moments.

      But the cupcakes, oh yes, the cupcakes made me drool. I even tried experimenting with some recipes, but I do not have the super crazy kitchen tools to accomplish this. Like say, a mixer. (I still use a fork to mix everything when I bake.)

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