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Jeeeez (Spotlight on Vegan Virgin Valentine)

March 30, 2011

(Spotlights contain spoilers.  Once again, I didn’t set out to do a spotlight.)

Does Carolyn Mackler own stock in Wegman’s?  Was she paid by Wegman’s to write Vegan Virgin Valentine?  The number of times it’s mentioned is just beyond comprehension.

I have other beefs (ha) with the book, but I’m not sure I want to get into spoilers here.

OKAY FINE.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.  SPOILERS BELOW.

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Vegan Virgin Valentine is the story of Mara Valentine, a vegan, a virgin, an overachiever, and one of the most locked-down, repressed characters in YA lit.  Which is fine.  Her parents can’t even mention sex without blushing, her dad calls her on her cell phone like seven times a day, and she broke up with her boyfriend and academic rival Travis because he pushed her to have sex.  But then her niece, Vivian (Vale? Vail? sorry, audiobook) Valentine, also known as V, comes into her house, and Mara has a slow descent into stupidity that the book sort of pushes as being growth.  Which it is and it isn’t.

On one hand, Mara “cuts the umbilical cord,” as V would put it.  V’s a misfit, a pothead, a “slut” (ugh–but on the other hand, Mara is just as down on Travis for being a man-whore, but then again Mara can’t say the word “penis” aloud).  She’s the result of her mother Amy’s insecurities and penchant for moving wherever some guy is/wants to go.  Because Amy’s finally moved to a place where V can’t follow (Costa Rica–she wouldn’t be able to find a school where they speak English), V’s going to live with Mara and her parents for the time being.

First off, fuck Mara’s parents, for being so repressed, so controlling, and for not taking V in much sooner than this all in the name of supporting their asshole of an oldest daughter.  V has been to something like twenty schools in twenty years.  That’s just child abuse.

Secondly, the vegan thing is very oddly handled in this.  BUT I wasn’t a teenage vegan, just an adult one, so IDK.  It was published a few years ago now, so maybe there weren’t as many vegan cheese options, but it’s not that Mara dreams of grilled cheese, and it’s not even that she HAS one by the end of the book, although the concept of veganism as self-denial and repression is a little hurtful.  (Self-denial, to me, is saying, like, kitties are good, don’t eat kitties, but ___ is tasty so we can eat that, but OMG NEVER EAT A KITTY THAT IS LIKE THE MOST HORRIBLE THING EVER and please hand me another chicken wing.)  Mara chooses to be vegan for the most ridiculous of reasons, which is fine because she’s a heartbroken teenager looking to punish herself, BUT.  She doesn’t seem to have done any research, other than maybe glancing at the PETA website.  Is she eating right?  Some of her dinners sound ridiculously unhealthy, with almost no protein involved.  Maybe this is an accurate portrayal of teenage veganism (for the kids who do it to be trendy or rebellious or well-meaning but don’t have the follow through), but afterwards–I mean, it’s a part of how she defines herself, and then it’s gone.  Does she tell her family she’s lacto-ovo vegetarian?  Does she define herself at all? No.  She just…is.  And she sneaks eggs.  SNEAKS.

Which is another problem with the book–um, but first let me say, as a vegan, I eat a heck of a lot of chocolate every day, so shut up on the “I CAN HAVE CHOCOLATE AGAIN.”  No, ass, you can have MILK CHOCOLATE again.  But I need to move forward on this, because I have stuff to do on my day off today, including reading Sweet Valley Confidential (thanks, Sarah!).  Mara’s rebellion is a bunch of underhanded sneakiness that makes her feel like crap, but she doesn’t really resolve stuff so much as blurt it out or have things handed to her.  For example, Mara is friends with her co-workers at the local coffee shop, Claudia and James.  This made me laugh because “Claudia James” is a Harlequin writer, but I’m easily amused sometimes.  Claudia has a thing for James.  Claudia is “in love with” James, who either doesn’t know or doesn’t care enough to do anything about it.  First off, Mara is a moron for thinking that what Claudia feels is love, not infatuation, but okay, they’re teens to early 20s, they get a pass on that.  However, when Mara and James end up getting together, they hide it from Claudia, and then Claudia acts like a stalker, then a whiny baby, and then CLAUDIA APOLOGIZES TO MARA.

Look, St. Mara doesn’t need absolution, although she’s incredibly grateful for it.  Mara did wrong.  Claudia should be apologizing for acting like a whiny baby and a stalker, but she doesn’t.  Instead, she Band-Aids the broken heart with a new relationship, and then tells Mara she should’ve accepted that there was something between Mara and James.

Um.  Yeah, that’s really the same as saying “Ohhh no, there’s nothing going on here.”  Except not.

Even the end of the book is awkward.  I get that the author is trying to put bad girl V in Mara’s formerly-sensible position, and Mara in V’s, but it doesn’t work.  Mara’s gone too far.  She’s already missed prom, and now she’s trying to miss graduation.  It’s not liberation, it’s fear, and yet…and yet…we’re supposed to be proud of her.  She’s angry because V was suspended for smoking pot, but V WAS SMOKING POT.  AT SCHOOL.  IT’S A RULE.  Mara wants everything to go her way.  That’s not growth.  Going from doing everything for everyone else to wanting everything else to go your way isn’t growing up.

It’s just dumb.

There’s nothing respectable about Mara by the end of the book.  And I don’t mean “respectable” like OMG, proper, I mean worthy of respect.  I understand her dropping out of the Johns Hopkins summer program, but everything else is just ridiculous.  Why does James put up with everything?

Oh, and WHY IS EVERYTHING TOLD IN RETROSPECT, PRACTICALLY?

It’s so irritating.

Okay, I did enjoy the book, but my God, was it full of flaws.  So was the woman who read the audiobook.  It was western NY by way of Beverly Hills Teens.

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