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17-year-old Hudson is known as the cupcake queen in her small, cold town of Watonka, NY. She finds comfort in mixing new flavors, new colors and new toppings to make mouthwatering handcrafted cakes to sell in her mom’s diner. But three years ago, she was defined by a different passion: competitive figure skating. The night that was supposed to mark her big break into the skating world, she uncovered her father's affair. Realizing her life would never be the same whether she took home a prize or not, she threw the competition, turned her back on her best friend on the rink, and hung up her skates for good.

"Any reader who has ever wondered or worried about their place in the world will easily connect to this charming, funny novel."

For three years, as she's helped her mom keep the diner afloat, perfected her confectionery talents, cared for her little brother Bug, and made a new best friend who's ready to help lick her spoon, she has convinced herself that skating is a part of her past --- a past wrapped up with the father she never sees and the promise of a future that now seems unattainable. She's resigned herself to live for the diner forever, stuck in her small town, until she gets a letter about a skating competition with a scholarship prize that could be her ticket out.

Training for the competition is tough while juggling her duties at the diner and keeping it a secret from her mom. Things don't get any less complicated when Josh, a cute boy from her high school's hockey team, offers her time to train on a real rink in exchange for her help trying to teach their losing team some grace on the ice. With Hudson's help, the team starts winning. Not one but two hockey guys seem to want more than a coach/player relationship with her, and she's beginning to wonder if her chance at winning the skating competition is all in her head.

BITTERSWEET is just what its title promises. It’s full of the sweet moments of Hudson's life, like enjoying a new crush or mastering a new recipe, always tinted with the bitter knowledge of her father's absence, her mother's stress, and the worry that someday she'll inherit not only her mother's restaurant but her inner turmoil as well. This novel is anything but predictable, and though it's not without a happy ending, the close is far from expected or cliched. The plot is never satisfied with a one-note problem; it recognizes that even as Hudson worries about her skating abilities, she's wondering if her mom will have enough money to cover the month's bills, that she can be regretting a long passed friendship as she struggles to keep another alive. It's those kinds of multi-faceted issues that makes Hudson a well-rounded and relatable protagonist.

What Sarah Ockler does best is portray the confusion of a teen trying to carve out a future for herself, tempted by the alluring familiarity of the past and scared of being forever stuck in the present. At times, the larger problems in Hudson's life seem to be wrapped up too easily, even unrealistically, but her inner struggles and confusion are genuine enough to overshadow that flaw. Any reader who has ever wondered or worried about their place in the world will easily connect to this charming, funny novel.

Reviewed by Molly Horan on February 29, 2012

by Sarah Ockler

  • Publication Date: December 4, 2012
  • Genres: Romance, Young Adult 14+
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon Pulse
  • ISBN-10: 1442430362
  • ISBN-13: 9781442430365