Carolyn Mackler has written books for young people that are consistently thought-provoking, relevant, and very, very funny. On first glance, her new novel would seem to be significantly more serious than her previous work. Take the first line, for example: “Paradise sucked until I found the suicide note.” TANGLED does have serious undertones, but Mackler’s many fans will appreciate not only this new level of gravity but also her continued accessible, genuine style.
The novel opens as four teens converge at a Caribbean resort called Paradise. But what starts as a seemingly casual winter getaway results in changes that will affect all of them. They also have their own issues --- many of which come to a head during, or after, their brief stay in Paradise.
Take Jena --- she’s the kind of cute girl who some people would call “curvy” or “voluptuous” while others might consider just plain chubby. She has always been intimidated by her mom’s friend’s daughter, Skye. Skye is beautiful and talented, an actress and a model who makes Jena feel huge and awkward (and who tends to monopolize any available guy’s attention). That is, until Jena meets Dakota at the Paradise resort.
Dakota is the kind of guy who wouldn’t look twice at Jena back in New York. He’s gorgeous, fit, even a jock. Jena is flattered by his attention and begins to gain self-confidence --- until a series of events causes all her self-assurance to vanish in an instant.
It turns out that the two “beautiful people” --- Dakota and Skye --- have problems of their own. Dakota is mourning the loss of his on-again, off-again girlfriend, whose sudden death in a car accident has him questioning their entire relationship --- and his own future. As for Skye, the seemingly glamorous life of a teenaged actress might not be so ideal after all. Despite the great clothes, the fabulous hair and the fast-paced schedule of auditions (not to mention the experience of being recognized on the street by total strangers), Skye feels empty inside.
And then there’s Owen, Dakota’s younger (and often overlooked) brother, who has his head buried in his laptop most of the time, even in Paradise. What might happen if Owen finally starts to live a real life instead of a virtual one? Might he form the kind of genuine connections that he’s been missing online?
What seems like a random intersection of four lives over a few days in the Caribbean actually has far wider implications, as these young people start to assess their past and define their futures --- together or apart. Although she does address some serious topics here --- depression, suicide, infidelity, body image --- Mackler does so with compassion and the leavening power of humor. Above all, she excels at creating characters and situations that feel real and genuine, whose problems and joys really matter to teens. In TANGLED, she has created four of them with whom readers will gladly travel --- to Paradise and back again.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on April 14, 2010