Blue Plate Special by Michelle Kwasney

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Doomed loves, failed families, nixed dreams—someone else's leftovers are heaped on our plates the day we come into this world.

Big Macs and pop tunes mask the emptiness as Madeline watches her mom drink away their welfare checks. Until the day Tad, a quirky McDonald's counter boy, asks Madeline out for a date, and she gets her first taste of normal. But with a life that’s anything but, how long can normal really last?

Hanging with Jeremy, avoiding Mam, sticking Do Not Disturb Post-its on her heart, Desiree's mission is simple: party hard, graduate (well, maybe), get out of town. But after Desiree accepts half a meatball grinder, a cold drink, and a ride from her mother's boyfriend one rainy afternoon, nothing is ever simple again.

Too many AP classes. Workaholic mom. Dad in prison. Still, Ariel's sultry new boyfriend, Shane, manages to make even the worst days delicious. But when an unexpected phone call forces a trip to visit a sick grandmother she's never met, revealing her family's dark past, Ariel struggles to find the courage to make the right choice for her own future.

As three girls from three different decades lives converge, they discover they are connected ways they could never imagine. Each of them finds strength that brings her closer to healing a painful past, and faith that there is a happier future.

This novel is told from the perspectives of three very different teenage girls - Madeline in the 1970s, Desiree in the 1990s, and Ariel in the 2000s. I found that each of their perspectives were brilliantly written, and each of their stories moving. I especially loved the sparse verse that is used in telling Desiree's story, and all of the music references used to ground the reader in the era of each of the girl's stories. Though it may seem as if chapters jumping between three different girls and three different decades would confuse the reader, I thought the tricky narrative was pulled off brilliantly.

I think in parts things were spelt out a little too much - at one point, there is a big reveal, and I wished it had have come out a little earlier in the novel, allowing the reader to make the mental leap on their own. However, the power of the novel is not affected by this fact, and I believe that - because of the multiple viewpoints from different decades - this is a novel that will have cross-generational appeal.

I will also say that I wished we could have learnt more about Ariel, and who she is, rather than her entire story centering around her boyfriend. I also found the technological references to centre her story in the modern day were slightly unnecessary. Overall, though, I found each of the girls to be really interesting, multi-layered characters, and I think though they made bad decisions, they were born into a lot of the bad circumstances they found themselves in, and they were each very likeable. I also loved the recurring references to the Blue Plate Special, and it's importance to Tad and Madeline.

I got this book in hardcover, and it really reminded how much I love hardcover books. This novel would certainly make a great gift. I think this novel will appeal especially to older teenage girls (maybe 15+), and perhaps mothers or older women as well (those who remember growing up in the 70s or 90s). A really powerful novel, that emotionally involves the reader and brilliantly pulls off multiple viewpoints.
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