July 24, 2012

Wicked Sweet

by Mar'ce Merrell
Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan imprint)
330 pp.
Ages 14-18

It would be fun to pun my way through this review for Wicked Sweet but I don't want to give the impression that the story is too saccharine.  Really.  There is much sweetness in it, courtesy of several characters, some amazing baking, and a plot that wraps up very nicely, but I would never consider it saccharine, sugary sweet or diabetic overload.  Wicked Sweet is an irresistible story of one summer and two friends, Jillian and Chantal, who are finding their way through the minefield that first boyfriends can be, while trying to keep their friendship and self-esteems intact.

It's the summer before their final high school year and the summer starts like any other:  at the lake, planning for their summer project.  Two very dedicated students, Jillian and Chantal know their priorities: friendship and grades.  But behind the friendship is the support each needs to deal with the difficulties in their lives:  Chantal, who suffers from anxiety attacks, has a stringent mother who aims for perfection, while Jillian endures the whims of her self-centered mother who spends more time with boyfriends than she does with her other six children (the Hat Trick, the Double Minor and baby Ollie), always leaving their care to Jillian. 

This summer, though, Jillian is showing an interest in boys, specifically the very hot, wealthy and together Parker, who has just broken up with his long-time girlfriend, Annelise.  And, if Parker brings his best friend, Will, then the four of them can hang out together, even think about doing their summer project with the boys.  Unfortunately, Chantal overhears Will and Parker talking about their "man challenge" which Will wins because he forces a kiss on Chantal (we won't mention that she vomits during the kiss).  Determined to get revenge, Chantal plans on humiliating Will using her new found baking skills, courtesy of Nigella Lawson's cooking channel, to suggest a secret admirer is leaving him very tasty treats and love notes, thus raising his expectations (easily, because of his arrogance) before she takes him down a notch or two.  Chantal even gets Annelise to play a part in this ruse.

Meanwhile, the summer project of a hockey camp for little kids at the lake has Jillian and Parker keeping very busy, but not busy enough to keep Parker from falling hard for her and Jillian from questioning the unrealistic demands her mother places on her and wondering how she can save herself.

Even following her recipe for revenge, Chantal's plot gets amended several times because she: 1) is spotted delivering the cakes; 2) has to hide her baking from her mother; 3) notices Parker is a good guy; 4) anonymously garners more and more attention for the Cake Princess; 5) recognizes who she does have a crush on; and 6) recognizes that everyone's roles are changing.  Although I was having difficulties keeping track of the plan and rationale for each change, I suspect it has more to do with my advanced age, far from the teens in Wicked Sweet.  Spontaneous changes in plans, whether well thought out or not, are not unusual in the lives of teens.  Except the old Chantal who liked schedules and order and pre-planning, the teens amended their plans as needed, usually just dealing with the repercussions of their choices as they manifest themselves.

Jillian is quite right when she claims that, "Who you are is all about what you want to believe." (pg. 302) Jillian, Chantal, Parker and Will are learning about themselves independent of their families who have thus far determined what kind of people they will be: a surrogate care-giver, the perfect daughter, the successful businessman, or a second-rate guy jealous of those who have more than he has.  While Mar'ce Merrell's plot in Wicked Sweet is delicious (sorry, it was irresistible), flavoured (oops, another pun!) with subplots, like Chantal's baking that becomes a sensory experience, it's her characters that had me craving more of Wicked Sweet.  By giving each chapter the different voices of the characters, Mar'ce Merrell allows the reader to get inside of Jillian's head as she tries to manage her mother and not embarrass herself and eventually recognize that she is worthy of more than she has been given, just as Parker begins to recognize that he does have a life plan and it's not being the successful, golfing business man, like his father and brothers, with a socialite wife.  Without knowing the nature of Parker's family, Jillian provides him with the opportunity to explore his own pursuits, vocational and romantic.

Don't let the cover fool you into thinking that Wicked Sweet is a piece of fluff, as it is not. (Sometimes cakes and pretty colours are erroneously taken as suggestive of a book of lesser quality.)  Wicked Sweet is a heartfelt and substantial look at growing up and deciding who you want to be when you don't even know who you are.

And, if you're still not convinced you need to read Wicked Sweet (how could you not be?), envision "light yellow vanilla love sweetened by delicate pink air kisses" and "white meringue frosting decorated with thin-piped daisy petals" and "chocolate cake with a vanilla buttercream spotted with chocolate circles." Yum.

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