Vegan, Virgin, Valentine
by Carolyn Mackler
Original Publishing Date: March 14, 2006
Approximate Length: 228 pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Obtained Via: Bought at Hastings
Format Read In: Paperback
View from the Traffic Light:
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? With insight, authenticity, and a healthy dose of humor, Carolyn Mackler creates an evolving Type A heroine that every reader will recognize – and root for.
This book started out with Mara, our conductor, calling us to all board the Judgement Express. See a person? Make a judgement. A girl who wears short skirts and a tank top? Clearly a slut. A slightly social awkward coffee house customer? Clearly, he lives in his parent’s basement. The gossipy girls? Definitely just dumb blondes. Mara is perhaps the most judgmental narrator I’ve ever read, and at the beginning of this book, that really didn’t bother me.
If I had to admit it, I would have to say that I was a pretty judgmental person in high school as well. After all, Mara and I have a lot in common. Both straight-A, focused-on-academics types who can admit to being complete control freaks and like to have everything a certain way. We’re both the younger sisters of older siblings whose life turned out very differently, and we both have nieces who aren’t that much younger than us. V’s a year younger than Mara, whereas my oldest niece is about three and a half years younger than me. So on all accounts, I should be able to relate to Mara.
And I did. . . at first. Then as the plot progressed, the relating thing became a whole lot harder. While I appreciate that Mara took the time to combat SOME of her judgements about V, this NEVER extended to anyone else. She just decides that perhaps she’s misjudged V’s intentions from the beginning and she’s not so bad after all. She still continues to think badly of others, however, and make fun of customers in the coffee shop and judge. . . well, pretty much everyone at school.
Additionally, Mara’s veganism is never really explored in a positive way. I don’t think this book really says anything in particular about veganism, but it’s sort of just left out after awhile. I feel like if that part of Mara’s life is included in the title of the book, it should play a bigger role. Instead, it’s just sort-of used to established Mara’s desire to control her life in perfect order. And while I get that, coming from a similar place, Mara’s character took that above and beyond. She could have been really interesting to read about, but she was never made even the least bit sympathetic. The constant stream of judgement was just overwhelming.
Now, the big thing that made me drop this book from a potential weak 3 star or strong 2 star to a 1 star. . . the romance. I won’t say who the romantic interest is, BUT while this romance is not insta-love, as they have known each other for awhile, the way the romance actually played out was incredibly unhealthy. At one point Mara(highlight to see spoilers): Drops out of her summer college program so she can spend more time with her boyfriend. NO, thanks! I didn’t know it until that moment, but apparently this is one of my biggest pet peeves. I will never be convinced that this can be portrayed positively. So yes, unhealthy romance much.
Final Impression: While I could relate to Mara at the beginning, and she learns some lessons, I could never get behind the main character of this novel, which is always my most important thing while reading. I hated how the unhealthy romance played out and I thought the lessons Mara learned seemed shallow and unlikely to stick. She never really got over her character judgements, and it was just too much and too unhealthy for me. 1/5 cupcakes.