Stella Parrish is seventeen, attractive, smart, deeply alienated, and unable to countenance life's absurdities. She is not nihilistic; she is prematurely exhausted. Since her parents OD'd on designer drugs when she was eleven, she has lived with well-meaning but inexperienced foster parents, while her grandfather, her only living relative, tries ever more ingenious ways of committing suicide in his retirement home. Here are the last two weeks of Stella's senior year in Orange County, California: the intensive AP final exams; the childish, celebratory trips; the totemic importance attached to graduation. Beneath Stella's mordantly funny take on her life is the decisiveness with which she disengages from it, planting clues and providing explanations for those who will try to understand the act she is about to commit. With perfect pitch, remarkable wit, and a spare, vivid prose, Stella turns her farewell to suburbia into a wry philosophical inquiry.
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Like the Red Panda is debut author Andrea Seigel's brutal answer to the throngs of Chick Lit novels that have inundated book clubs and influenced the big screen over the past decade. Stella Parrish, Seigel's tragic heroine, is 17, extremely wise beyond her years, completely alienated from her peers and her foster family, and determined to kill herself before she arrives at Princeton's gates in the fall. Seigel's task here is difficult--she's created a character of extraordinary depth, given her an unpleasant (at best) mission, and attempted to make her amusing and interesting, all at the same time. In many ways, the author's success should be widely applauded, even if she falls short on occasion.
Like the Red Panda enjoys its greatest success when Stella is commenting on the people around her. Her wry observations about her cranky old grandfather, her pot-smoking classmates in AP English, and her brilliant, unmotivated drug-dealing ex-boyfriend paint an equally amusing and insightful portrait of suburban life in America. When describing the temple-going practices of her jumpy and awkward foster parents, Stella explains that services are held on Sunday morning instead of Saturday, "mostly so everyone could be on the same worship schedule as their Christian friends. This benefited cross-religion plan-making on the weekends." When Seigel strays from witty observations like these, the novel has a tendency to lose its quirky appeal and simply becomes a tale of disenchanted youth. Thankfully, Like the Red Panda delivers more laughs than tears, and rewards readers with a unique blend of one-part teenage angst mixed with two-parts comedic wit. --Gisele TouegAbout the Author:
ANDREA SEIGEL is a graduate of Brown University. She is twenty-four years old and lives in Los Angeles.
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