Tangled by Carolyn Mackler

Paradise sucked until I found the suicide note. And then it didn’t suck at all. It was so good, in fact, that I thought maybe my entire life was finally going to change.

Tangled is Carolyn Mackler’s latest, longest, and most ambitious book for young adults. Ambitious is obviously my commentary, and my comment attends mainly to the plot and story structure of the novel. Her previous four novels – Love is a Four Letter Word, The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things, Vegan Virgin Valentine, and Guyaholic – are single voiced narratives about girls. Very deft, interesting portrayals of high school girls of a certain economic class – I especially love Mackler’s charmingly powerless Virginia in The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things – but all books similar in thematic scope. Tangled is a novel in four parts, each a first-person narration from a different character’s point of view. What makes the book especially interesting is that the narratives are entirely separate – four novellas rather than one story told through four lenses – and that the characters and their relationships are largely unknown to the reader.

The first section is Jena’s, while the vacations in the Caribbean with her mother and her mother’s best friend and daughter, Skye. Jena’s voice reminded me of a slightly more self-possessed Virginia. She is preoccupied with her weight, her appearance, with looking good in front of glamorous Skye, and impressing the hot guy staying in their hotel. When their romance doesn’t go as Jena hoped, I wasn’t surprised, but I was surprised to be taken off the island for the next section and into the hot guy’s head for section two.

I found it an engaging read – I wanted to turn the pages and figure out how the four teenagers would end up relating, and to find out, after meeting all four on the Caribbean island, what their motivations and personal stories would be. However, a big point of interest in a book with multiple narrators is re-realizing some of the earlier characters when the new characters offer a new perspective. I thought Mackler could have been a little more bold in these moments. Jena’s first-person narrative is full of insecurity about her appearance, but when we hear her romantic interests memories of her, she was attractive. Later, Jena approaches another character with great confidence and self-esteem. These re-visiting of characters is interesting, but not unexpected.

So ambitious. But not a magnum opus. However, I will keep running out to see what Ms. Mackler is up to.

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