TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
Mara Valentine is a high school senior under a ton of stress. She's a super-smart girl in a neck-and-neck battle with her ex-boyfriend, the somewhat slimy Travis Hart, to be class valedictorian. She spends half her school day taking college classes at SUNY Brockport — including a particularly hideous dance class — in the hopes of earning enough credits to enter Yale as a sophomore. Mara also works at a local coffee shop, Common Grounds, mostly because she wants to appear well-rounded. To top it all off, she's a hardcore vegan, albeit one who tends to dream of cheese.
Mara has a much older sister, a free spirit named Aimee who randomly moves around taking short-term, odd jobs and living with various men. When Aimee heads off to Costa Rica, she leaves her teenage daughter, V, with Mara's family. Technically, V is Mara's niece, although she's only a year younger. V is everything Mara is not — impulsive, brash, and a bit of a troublemaker. Mara's parents are delighted to have their granddaughter in the house, and they set about trying to provide V with a more stable life.
Unfortunately, Mara and V are not very close. At all. In fact, they have a hard time doing anything but arguing with each other. It doesn't help matters that V kisses Travis shortly after moving in. For reasons she can't quite explain, Mara still has some feelings for Travis, and V's actions feel like a betrayal. As time moves on, Mara does her best to ignore V and her snide comments, trashy outfits, and pot smoking.
But as usually happens in this type of coming-of-age novel, both Mara and V change as the school year progresses. Mara falls in love with James, the older owner of Common Grounds, and she begins to question her whole overachieving, pressure-filled outlook on school, life, and food. For her part, V wins the lead role in a school musical, starts to attend an SAT prep class in Rochester, and, along the way, begins to believe that she can hope for something more from her life.
Nothing truly unexpected happens in this book, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Just because you know where the story is going doesn't mean you can't enjoy the trip. Mara starts off so neurotic and tightly wound that her transformation, played out in small steps, is both welcome and believable. Mara's growing friendship with V is also a delight, as all too often in teen novels, girls remain each other's worst enemies. Plus, romance fans should love Mara's relationship with James, even if that character can, at times, seem too good to be true.
If you're looking for a fairly standard "chick lit" novel, with plenty of warm, funny, and touching moments, "Vegan Virgin Valentine" should be a good choice for you. It's a fast-paced read with a truly nice ending. It's probably best for girls in high school and up. Although it does so in a gentle manner, the book deals with themes involving sex and drug use, which might be too much for most middle school readers. Enjoy!