Nora went to college with my fiancee. A couple years back, they reconnected and she invited us over for dinner. On the way to Nora’s house, I realized that I had forgotten to ask him to mention that I was vegan and to offer to bring something. Luckily, Nora is vegan (and an amazing cook). That same night, I also learned that Nora loves YA, that she is going to school to get her school media certification (my future plan as well), and that she is into super cheesy pop culture stuff (in a good way of course). We were destined to be friends and co-bloggers.
Today ends Go Vegan Week, which I didn’t actually know existed until author Tera Lynn Childs posted about it on her facebook page. Since Nora and I are not only lovers of YA but also dedicated vegans, I decided to celebrate Go Vegan Week by reading Vegan Virgin Valentine – the only book I have come across with a vegan protagonist (any others I should check out?). This review will contain some spoilers so proceed with caution if you have yet to read this one!
Vegan Virgin Valentine
Mara Valentine seems to have her act together. She’s been accepted early decision at Yale, she is neck-in-neck in the race for valedictorian, she is involved in numerous clubs/activities, has a part-time job to avoid looking too privileged on her college applications, and she is on course to enter college with several credits under her belt. Where she’s lacking? Friends, romance – she has little time nor seemingly interest in a social life. As she says, she’s on course to leave Upstate, NY, not to make new ties. When her wild child of a niece, who is just 1 year younger than Mara, comes to live with the Valentines, her life is shaken up. She and Vivienne Vail Valentine (known simply as V), are seemingly on far, opposite ends of the personality spectrum, almost caricatures. Throughout Mara’s last year of high school and V’s first year living with the Valentines, the two young women find themselves transforming into more believable, well-rounded individuals as they explore who they are and what is important to them.
The story is pretty predictable after a point, but I still enjoyed it and it was a fast read. Mara is a pretty intense character. She reminds me of a friend from high school, except that my friend while highly determined to succeed, also had an active social life and boyfriends and such. I’m glad that when Mara decides to take some time off from schoolwork and clubs to explore her new crush and newfound sexuality, that she doesn’t have to entirely sacrifice her success at school; I worry about the message that would send. I like both Mara and V as characters, especially as they start to move in from the edges and feel more relatable. While I’m glad that Mara has a crush and dives in, no matter how nice and smart he is nor how mature for her age she is (her parents’ eventual rationalization), it still creeps me out a little that she’s basically dating her boss who is 5 years older than her. Technically it isn’t illegal (I looked it up); if she were one year younger it would be a different story. I think it is hilarious how she obsesses over his jeans with the hole in the thigh. And I’m glad that he doesn’t pressure her to have sex with him, like her ex-boyfriend did. I do worry that this book sends the message that high schoolers who are virgins are clearly wound too tight and need to loosen up and have sex. Hopefully the message that readers get, instead, is that waiting until you are ready can be pretty awesome.
In the end, Mara is no longer a virgin nor a vegan. At the beginning, she explains that going vegan was a way for her to be “all-consumingly obsessive” over something aside from the break-up with her sex-pressuring boyfriend. People go vegan for many different reasons and some of those reasons are healthier and/or more sensible than others. Since this book was all about Mara loosening up a little, not always having to be in control of things, and because she expressed being only somewhat committed to not eating animals for reasons other than obsession, I predicted the demise of her veganhood early on. I do wish there was a book out there for young adults that featured a vegan protagonist who was still a vegan by the end of the book and following that lifestyle healthfully, but I don’t think that Mackler needs to be the one to fill that author role. I do hope that readers unfamiliar with what it means to be vegan won’t take Mara’s word for it that to be vegan necessitates obsessive vigilance (that’s not how I experience it) nor that everyone feels a sense of loss for and dreams of the items that they (once) crave(d). One thing that I appreciate about the representation of Mara as a vegan, is that she cooks really tasty sounding food, as does her mom who is kind enough (like mine was and still is) to cook meat on the side so that the family can still share meals with one another.
Tera Lynn Childs’ blog has a Very Vegan Halloween post up today which lists a bunch of different vegan candies. Yum! Shout-out to my favorite: Chick-O-Sticks! I LOVE YOU!