Sunday, March 16, 2014

Review of 'Love and Muddy Puddles' by Cecily Anne Paterson

Young Adult Romance
Date Published:

Thirteen year old fashionista Coco Franks has finally made it into the popular group when her dad decides to move the whole family to the country so they can 'bond'. Social death is looming, her shoes are covered in mud and all Coco wants to do is get herself back to her city friends. After all, things can't get any worse, right?

Read an excerpt:
Over the next few weeks I perfected the look that I called The Half Roll, where I opened my eyes as wide as I could, looked from side to side and did a slight downward roll of my eyeballs. It wasn’t enough to get me into trouble with Mum who had a thing about rolling your eyes—it usually merited a toilet clean—but it was just enough for me to say, Really? Are you kidding me? Is this the way it’s going to be? I’m definitely better than this.

I did the half roll when I saw the shed that was going to be our new house. Seriously? This is disgusting. Gravel on the floors, no proper walls—just corrugated iron—with a ‘kitchen’ that was nothing more than a portable stove and a camping fridge attached to a noisy little generator. I did the biggest half roll I could do when Dad set up my ‘bedroom’, which was basically a bed behind a shower curtain. I didn’t even have enough room to put my suitcase out permanently. Every time I wanted to get dressed I had to hoick it on to my bed, choose my clothes and then put the thing away again.

The only thing I didn’t make a half roll face for was the pit toilet. Yes, it smelt, but there was no mud, stinging nettles or leeches, and I guess I had to be grateful for something. I still made sure I checked for brown snakes (actually, for snakes of any colour—it’s just that the brown ones can kill you) every time I went though. It would have been earth-shatteringly embarrassing to have ended up in hospital with a snake bite on my bottom.

Plus, I was trying to minimise the risk of dying in a place where I would probably have the most unfashionable funeral ever. Knowing Dad as I now did, it would be quite likely that he would bury me in a field somewhere and forget all about me. There would be no headstone with an elegant quote, no quietly sobbing people in black hats, no flowers and no yearly visits from my grief-stricken friends coming to lay memorial bottles of nail polish and rolls of sushi on my grave. No. If I was going to die I would have to wait at least 12 months until I got back to the city where I could do it properly.

Josh and Charlie took to the new life like they had been living it forever. They chopped firewood, helped Dad clear space for the house and explored the property with the kind of energy that you get when you put a brand new set of batteries in a set of slot cars. Vrooooom.

I was left with the run-down, mismatched dodgy batteries. The bargain bin, no-name ones with rust and grit on the ends. I hardly had enough energy to get out of bed.

“Come on, Coco,” Charlie said to me every morning. “Let’s go check out the creek/back paddock/olive grove,” or whatever it was that day that was taking her interest. “What’s the matter?”

“I don’t really feel like it,” I said. “I’ll just stay here.”

She looked at me concerned. “Are you sure? Do you want me to stay with you?” I shrugged and smiled at her, but it was a weak smile. “I’m okay here.”

She stayed for three minutes but then her curiosity got the better of her and she was off. “I’ll be back later. Promise.” “Okay,” I said. “I’m just tired.”

It was mostly true. Everything was an effort. With no electricity in the shed, I couldn’t believe how much work it was to do even a simple thing like take a hot shower. You had to pump the water from the tank into a drum, build a fire underneath it to heat it up, wait three hours while it heated and then fill the camp shower with buckets of hot water. After that, if you got three minutes you were lucky.

Dad showed me how to do it in the first week. I gave him the half roll and even went to a full roll (out of sight of Mum of course) when he told me that he expected me to do it myself after that. But I couldn’t imagine living without a shower at least once a day so I went through the whole rigmarole every day for a week before finally giving it up as a joke. There are limits to how much work I will do—even if it’s to keep clean and maintain standards. I admitted defeat (but only to myself) and stuck to a simple face and hands routine with a bowl of warm water in the morning and a weekly shower and hair wash.

Life was ridiculous, difficult and grubby. I mean, this is the 21st century, right? As I told Charlie almost every day, people invented electricity and toasters and hairdryers for a reason—because life is better with them. But there was no convincing Dad. He was hopping around every morning like an excited bunny, talking to builders and making plans and marking and measuring and sticking rods in the ground and reading books and talking to Josh about farming and other stupidly boring things that made my head spin. At night he was holding his hands out in front of the fire, sighing and saying, “Oh, now this is living. This is how it’s supposed to be.” Half roll. Please. Charlie was talking about horses, and could she get one eventually, wearing muddy gumboots, jodhpurs and cowboy hats and sitting on fences like she’d never seen a city in her life. Even Mum, who I thought for sure would have cracked once she realised she’d either have to wash the clothes by hand or take huge loads to the Laundromat a half hour’s drive away (and that’s after she’d made it up the driveway from hell) seemed to be enjoying it.

The days sorted themselves into a routine of food, chores, schoolwork, more chores, more food and more schoolwork. I did the half roll when Mum first pulled out books and pens and things. “Why even bother?” I muttered under my breath. “If we’re going to live in Middle Earth, I don’t think we need algebra. I’m sure that hobbits didn’t learn biology.”

As it turned out, there was a benefit to doing school at the farm. For one thing, it didn’t take so long. I spent three hours doing stuff we took six to get through at school, so I was definitely saving time. The question was, though, for what? There was no TV, no internet, no electricity, nowhere to go and nothing to do. There was also no one to talk to.

Or so I thought.
**My thoughts**

Coco is not a very likable character. She is whiny, snobby, and spoiled, despite her parents' best efforts. All she cares about is fashion and beauty and being a part of the most popular group at school. Her friends are also complete snots, reminding me an awful lot of Mean Girls. They have very strict rules about how to look and behave, and will drop you on your butt in the blink of an eye, should you ever decide to step a toenail out of line.

When her father's job becomes redundant and they move to the country, Coco puts on a temper tantrum and refuses to speak to her father for the entire year that she must put in before returning to her perceived city bliss. She's a brat to her older brother, her twin sister (yes, they are fraternal - polar opposites in every way), and to the new neighbors. You do find yourself laughing out loud when she falls into mud and cow pies, thus knocking her off of her little high horse.

But speaking of horses, a beautiful one named Cupcake, who belongs to the neighbors, seems to have the same kind of attitude that Coco does. As expected, the two of them understand each other in that magical way that children and animals do, and actually teach each other a lot. 

As expected, Coco does undergo a lot of changes in her year away from the Snob Sisters. A lot of the relationships and twists are very predictable, but necessary to help Coco become someone that you can actually tolerate. In fact, by the end of the book, you find yourself liking her a bit.

It looks like this may be the first in a series about Coco and her twin sister Charlie, which makes me happy. Charlie was much more likable and seems like she has plenty of her own stories to tell. I am also curious to see what happens to Coco in the future as she adapts to her new way of life.

This book may be labeled as YA, but I think even younger readers in the middle grades will enjoy it.

Buy links

About the author:

Cecily Anne Paterson desperately hopes that someone will develop a self-cleaning house soon so that she gets more time to write. She should probably also teach her four children to cook for the same reason. Cecily creates true-to-life stories for young teenage girls, mostly because she never really grew out of being a young teenage girl herself. She grew up in Pakistan, went to boarding school in the Himalayan mountains and now lives a much quieter life in country New South Wales, Australia.




Twitter: @CecilyPaterson


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