Like Mandarin by Kirsten Hubbard
Mandarin Ramey is beautiful and wilder than the wildwinds that sweep the small town of Washokey Wyoming, that drive people to do crazy things. Grace Carpenter is shy, awkward, smarter than all of her classmates - and would like nothing more than to be like Mandarin. When Grace and Mandarin are paired together for an end of the year project at school, they begin an unlikely friendship that causes the entire town to raise their eyebrows.
Desperate to please Mandarin and keep the friendship alive, Grace agrees to run away to California. But as the day for leaving draws closer, Grace begins to see the real Mandarin - very troubled and very dangerous. Will Grace be swept away by Mandarin's magnetic pull, or can she keep her grounding in the badlands of Wyoming?
I really enjoyed this book. The stark setting of windswept Wyoming provides the perfect backdrop for this story about two very different girls with the common goal of escaping town (and very different ideas of how to do so). It was easy to imagine that there are girls just like them in every town - feeling stuck where they are and desperate to get out, but not quite knowing how to make the leap into the bigger world. The relationships between Grace and the other characters in the story are very believable - from her child beauty pageant obsessed mother to her so-called friends who really aren't much friends at all.
If you like reading realistic stories about today's teens and the problems they deal with, then you'll probably enjoy this book.