52 in 52: Bittersweet, by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

[This review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) digital edition published by the Crown Publishers imprint of the Crown Publishing Group in 2014, and provided by NetGalley.]

Here’s the deal:
I was perusing the internet, reading articles on Entertainment Weekly, when I came across their list of 14 Rising Stars to Watch in 2014. Among them was an author of whom I’d never heard named Miranda Beverly-Whittemore:

Just reading this little blurb was enough to draw out my interest; I haven’t yet read Gone Girl (though I’m planning to later this year, before the film opens), but the “exploration of dark secrets” bit caught my attention. I opened a new tab in my browser, found Bittersweet on NetGalley, and immediately requested it.

Bittersweet, I learned, is about a pair of college roommates named Genevra “Ev” Winslow and Mabel Dagmar who spend a summer at Ev’s family’s summer compound called Winloch. Winloch is comprised of Trillium, the main house, as well as a large Dining Hall and many smaller cottages on the ground that are named after plants. Ev’s cottage is called Bittersweet, and she tells Mabel that, upon their arrival, they have a week to clean and repair the cottage in order for it to pass an inspection (by Ev’s parents). If the house fails the inspection, Ev says, she will not inherit it and will instead be forced to live with her parents, while Mabel will have to return home to Oregon and the family she doesn’t want to see. The inspection, it turns out, is a lie created by Ev in order to get Mabel to help her fix up Bittersweet — and the first of many, as Mabel learns through the course of the book. The summer is full of secrets and deceptions for Mabel to uncover!

My thoughts:
Bittersweet is, in a word, ridiculous…and I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s one of those books where everything is not as it seems, and one dirty secret after another is revealed until, toward the end of the book, Mabel discovers the ugliest one of them all. I had my suspicions about this particularly ugly secret based upon bits and pieces of description made in passing throughout the previous pages, so I rewarded myself by hitting my NOOK screen (oops!) and nearly shouting, “I knew it!”

The one story element I was able to predict correctly at the start was how it would end for Mabel herself. A few chapters in, I had an idea of where her path was leading after she’d become acquainted with several Winslows. Virtually everything else, though, was completely shocking to me, from Ev’s true personality to Birch Winslow’s terrible secret and from the history behind the Van Gogh painting in Trillium’s summer room to the contents of the mysterious journal. Keeping track of everything required focus, but the well-written narrative gave me the willpower to do exactly that. Additionally, I found myself falling in love with the idea of a summer cottage, though I know I’d never be able to afford one. I also know that, no matter how crazy my family is, we form a perfectly functional and cohesive unit compared with the drama surrounding the Winslow family.

So would I recommend this book?
Bittersweet won’t be released to the public until May, but it’s definitely a novel I’d put in my beach bag (if I didn’t have to make sure my toddler wasn’t eating sand or streaking across the beach, that is)! It’s hardly the typical “splashy”, saccharine-sweet, mindless beach read, but if you want to spend a day really engrossed in a story while working on your tan, Bittersweet is definitely the book for you. Entertainment Weekly was absolutely right in naming Ms. Beverly-Whittemore on their list of rising stars — this novel proves that she certainly belongs there! I’ll be sure to send out a reminder on publication day, but I’ve also provided links by both Barnes and Noble (in the cover image above) and Amazon (below) if you’d like to pre-order it. I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me when it comes out!

Bittersweet will be available for purchase on May 13, 2014.

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