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Bittersweet - Sarah Ockler 3.5 starsI’ve just finished Bittersweet, and about three things I am absolutely positive. First, I really want a cupcake. Second, there’s a part of me – and I’m not sure just how determined this part of me is – that wants to brave the cold outside just to go get a cupcake right now. And third, I am undeniably and absolutely using this cupcake craving to delay writing a review. Bittersweet is a decidedly cupcakeish book – sweet and indulgent. Heck, it even has a frosted cover. The thing is, I don’t think I have enough of a sweet tooth to fully appreciate this novel’s charms. Because contrary to the title, there is scant bitterness to be found tempering the pages. Sure, Hudson doesn’t lead a charmed life. She has issues of the home, heart and high school to contend with. A cheating, absentee father. An abandoned pro ice-skating career. A friendship hanging by a tenuous thread. The possibility of never getting out of Watonka. Not one, but two hot guys on the sidelines. Etcetera. This is the second Sarah Ockler book I’ve read, and while I’ve enjoyed both and would recommend them, I can’t say I’ve fallen in love with either. Ockler has snappy, smooth writing, her characters are accessible and the plots realistic – I just haven’t found them particularly memorable. While Bittersweet was a lovely book to sink into for a few days, I’m not convinced it will leave a lasting impression. Bittersweet is about figuring out what’s really important – the messes that get made in the process. For all Hudson’s actions could be seen as incredibly self-centred and blinkered, I felt that she read as an authentic teenager. Her tenacity, while perhaps misplaced, and pursuit of her goals felt like a logical response to her situation. I admired her determination to achieve something, even if it took her some time to work out exactly what that should be. Hudson’s struggle to balance her relationships with her ambition was realistically handled, and probably the element of her story that resonated with me most. In both Fixing Delilah and Bittersweet, Ockler has written complicated mother-daughter relationships – women who seem to be at cross purposes due to a break down in communication. The unbalanced dynamic between Hudson and her mother is well-handled, and Ockler writes their interactions with a great deal of insight and subtlety. On the other hand, the romantic subplot is not quite so understated. This is right-for-the-romantic-jugular stuff, with lots of pounding hearts, near kisses, shivering and gentle touches. The relationship between Hudson and her primary love interest is cute, even rather swoony – but I felt less of a connection with this part of the story. (The use of one of my least favourite plot devices – the miscommunication – might have had something to do with this.)I’ve probably come down a little harder on this book than I intended – so I’ll reiterate that I really liked Bittersweet. Particularly Hudson’s self-deprecating humour, which really worked against the “my life sucks” elements of the story. The supporting characters, particularly Dani, Bug and Will, also felt vital and well-realised, giving the story dimension. Ockler has a lovely, conversational style that fits her protagonist. Bittersweet is definitely some kind of delicious. It’s just not something I could have every day without getting a toothache.