The Smell of Lilacs


Young Adult - Coming of Age
226 Pages
Reviewed on 08/07/2021
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Lesley Jones for Readers' Favorite

The Smell of Lilacs by Katie Marshall features protagonist Mackenzie ‘Kenzie’ Carter, who has the same worries and problems as any other teenager. She wonders how her younger sister, Rachael, can have the perfect hourglass figure while she believes her body resembles a butternut squash. At least she has the most amazing friends and together they can face any obstacle. Kenzie realizes that being a high school senior comes with specific pressures to cope with love's complicated emotions. Her friendship with Cayden is deepening daily, but could they ever be more than friends? As Kenzie discovers a horrifying secret about one of her friends, she also has to overcome personal emotional problems. From a bright future ahead, Kenzie’s world is turned upside down. As she struggles to see anything but a future of darkness and sadness, Kenzie must decide whether she will allow her overwhelming grief to define who she is or allow love into her heart. Will she choose Cayden or solitude?

The Smell of Lilacs by Katie Marshall is a fascinating and well-written coming-of-age novel. Kenzie is an excellent character and a great role model for any teenage reader. She is exceptionally kind-hearted and sensitive to the needs of others while possessing very high standards and morals. Every character, especially Aubrey, is believable and the authentic dialogue highlights their personalities perfectly. I love the many layers to the plot that are gradually revealed. The storyline moves forward at a fast pace, which makes for a compelling read. There are some subtle but compelling lessons around body image, self-respect, and peer pressure. I also thought the subject of grief and losing someone dear was handled with much sensitivity and realism. Author Katie Marshall covered teenage self-harm superbly, and the scenes surrounding this issue were poignant and touching. The Smell Of Lilacs is a very healing and cathartic read, filled with characters that promote self-confidence and belief in your unique talents. I highly recommend it.

Pikasho Deka

The Smell of Lilacs is an enthralling coming-of-age tale written by Katie Marshall. Mackenzie Carter is a high school senior who finds herself getting constantly bullied, leaving her feeling insecure. Compounding matters for her at home is her mother's struggle with Cerebral Palsy. She also has a secret crush on one of her closest friend's boyfriends, and when a new student named Cayden shows romantic interest in her, she thinks it must be a joke. As she navigates her way through friendships, boys, and schoolwork, Mackenzie slowly starts to grow more sure of herself. But she gets the biggest shock of her life when her best friend dies unexpectedly in a freak accident. Falling into a pit of despair induced by grief and feeling more lost than ever, can Mackenzie get back up?

The Smell of Lilacs is a thoughtful coming-of-age drama novel that young adults will find highly relatable. Author Katie Marshall spins an absorbing yarn about a teenager discovering herself, masterfully capturing the hopes, dreams, and insecurities associated with typical high school life. The characters are likable and well-developed. Mackenzie is a compelling protagonist for whom you start rooting instantly. The relationships between her and her friends and family drive the plot forward. I felt the pacing was a bit on the slower side, but being a character-driven story, it only enhances the narrative the deeper in you get. The author also touches upon some serious topics such as bullying, teenage anxiety, and self-harm. If you're looking for an insightful coming-of-age story, The Smell of Lilacs is the book for you.

Romuald Dzemo

The Smell of Lilacs by Katie Marshall is an engrossing coming of age story that follows young Mackenzie Carter as she navigates school and family challenges during her senior year. She has to deal with high school drama, handle family issues, and struggle to understand who she really is in a world that seems to be spinning out of control. But the chaos in her life hits its peak when her oldest and most intimate friend Aubrey dies. The pair were so close and Mackenzie’s life spirals out of focus without Aubrey. Can she grieve properly and still find her foothold when everything seems to be falling apart?

The Smell of Lilacs is a masterfully written story and a testament to the author’s remarkable ability to create a world where family dynamics and teenage school life are vividly depicted. Readers will see the characters come alive in a setting that is skillfully and expertly crafted. I enjoyed how the relationships are written and how the female protagonist evolves through interactions with her family and friends. The story is told in a gripping first-person narrative voice that brilliantly brings out the point of view of Kenzie. The emotions are real and intense. The author writes about grief in its rawness. The emotional depth of the narrative revolves around the protagonist’s struggle with letting go and her inability to stop blaming herself for her friend’s death. Katie Marshall’s characters are elaborately written. Beyond the protagonist, readers will also be fascinated by Jasmine and Savannah and the support they give each other. The Smell of Lilacs explores a young character’s response to loss and is a realistic and deftly written story that will have readers emotionally engaged from one captivating page to the next.