Thursday, May 16, 2013

Maya's Notebook : A Mom & Me Review

Get it at or your local bookseller or Amazon.
 Maya's Notebook is Isabel Allende's latest novel, the story of Maya Vidal, a teenager run off the rails.  Raised by her Nini and Popo, who step in to support their oft-absent son and Maya's entirely absent mother, Maya falls apart when her cherished and cherishing grandfather dies.  She's in high school and "not making good decisions".  Not by a long shot.  Fast forward a month or two and she's drug dealing/drug using in Las Vegas.  Fast forward a bit further and she's running from the FBI, escaping to a remote island off the coast of Chile, taken in by her Nini's long lost friend, Manuel, and his fellow villagers.  What's connecting all these characters?  Will Maya heal her drug addictions and self-destructive ways?  That's the stuff this novel is made of.
The Bottom Line from Mom & Me:  Fans of Allende will admire this new addition to her oeuvre, and those new to Allende's work will find a gripping and redemptive tale of a troubled teen, two continents, and many shades of family.

Me:  Thumbs up.  From start to finish, I found Allende's latest novel to be engrossing and confidently spun.  Not surprising from an author who has dozens of books under her belt. 

I think that my experience might benefit those of you on the fence about this novel, too.  I've read ten of Allende's earlier works, maybe more.  My favorites were her early works like House of the Spirits and her short story collection, Stories of Eva Luna.  Of her mid-career books, I favor Daughter of Fortune, but for recent works, this one tops the list.

And her protagonist/narrator Maya is a truly plausible, if frustratingly self-destructive, heroine.  This I can tell you for certain, based on sixteen years teaching high school students: many make good decisions as a rule, but some teens dive deeper and deeper into dangerous territory, alienating and/or actively repulsing those who try to help them.  Maya falls into the latter category, and it should come as no surprise that her central issue - not conscious for her for most of the novel, but clearly the impetus for her "acting out" - is abandonment by her parents. 
For me, the most interesting aspect of Maya's Notebook - in contrast to Allende's ploddingly detailed travelogue, My Invented Country - was the fascinating detail about the people and traditions of the remote Chilean islands of Chiloe. Such a hearteningly collaborative and simple way of living certainly would give most of us cause for envy, and provided a clear contrast to Maya's somewhat privileged and definitely debauched life in Berkeley and then Las Vegas.

There's some gritty material in Vegas to contrast with the imperfect but much preferable lifestyle Maya ultimately embraces in Chiloe, but nothing to make a sensitive soul like me blench particularly hard, and the fact that Maya is writing in her notebook after the Vegas time period lets us readers know from word one that she's in a relatively safe situation.  Sort of...

All in all, I would - and did - recommend this to fans of Allende and to armchair travelers and to mature, hardy teens in search of a cautionary yet ultimately uplifting tale.

I found it to be a fascinating read.  Allende always gives me much to think about with regard to human relationships and another of her talents is conveying a sense of place.   In Maya's Notebook, she doesn't disappoint.
I’ve decided to focus my review on offering you a few notable passages so that you can see for yourselves the worthiness of Allende’s prose.
Maya leads an unconventional life with her wonderful grandfather Popo and grandmother Nini who care for her mentally, physically, and emotionally —until her grandfather dies and her life collapses.  Here, she shares her grief:
“Pain like that, pain of the soul, does not go away with remedies, therapy, or vacations; you simple endure it deep down, fully as you should…. My sadness kept me company; I didn’t want to be cured of it as if it were a cold. I didn’t want to share my memories with those well-intentioned therapists either, because anything I might tell them about my grandfather would sound banal” (68-69).
When, many months later, Maya is rescued from a horrible situation in Las Vegas by her Nini and sent to Chilotes, an island off the coast of Chile, her grief is temporarily subsumed in the quiet beauty of her daily life and she makes a lovely observation when her iPod is ‘lifted’ soon after her arrival at the home of Manual Arias in Chilotes:
“Without my iPod I can hear the island’s voice: birds, wind, rain, crackling wood fires, cart wheels, and sometimes the distant fiddles of the Caleuche, a ghost ship that sails in the fog and is recognized by the music and the rattling bones of its shipwrecked crew, singing and dancing on the deck…” (46-47).
And here Allende demonstrates her skill at pulling the reader into a setting; I couldn’t help myself—I was there when Maya experienced her first storm in Chilotes:
“We had the most serious storm so far, which arrived with giant strides, raging against the world. There was lightning, thunder, and a demented wind (did you ever think of the wind as demented?) that rushed at us, determined to send the house sailing away in the rain. The three bats (permanent residents) let go of the beams and started flying around the room, while I tried to get them out with the broom and Dumb-Cat swatted futilely at them in the trembling candlelight….The noise of the storm was deafening—rocks rolling, tanks, derailed trains, howling wolves, and suddenly an uproar that came from deep in the ear. ‘It’s shaking, Manuel!’ but he was unperturbed, reading with his miner ‘s lamp on his forehead. ‘It’s just the wind, girl. When there’s an earthquake the pots fall down’” (119).
I could go on citing passages that spoke to me deeply and I’ll keep my notes handy so that I can do so whenever I wish. My best recommendation, however, is that you read Maya’s Notebook and pick out your own favorite quotes—and then perhaps return here to tell me what some of them were.

With gratitude, as usual, to our Trish at TLC Tours.  We are ever thankful for her faith in us and strive to keep our reviews earnest and insightful.
And Allende has an official blog, kept by a friend:  Plenty of interest there too!

Mom & Who? 
Mom's a retired science librarian/tech writer in New Mexico; I'm a high school English teacher in Washington state. We share a love of our imperfectly tended gardens (OK, mine's oh so much more imperfect than hers), lifelong learning (not a day goes by...), Jacques Pepin, travel, show tunes, our two-legged and four-legged family members, and - of course - books.

Once a month or so, we offer up a tandem review about a new book we both suspect you'll enjoy.  We hope you'll find our "dialogue" valuable reading in and of itself, and that we'll inspire you to try your own inter-generational read-along, be it with our picks or with your own.


Christine said...

I'm not going to read your review because I'm reading it right now (and going to see her read tonight!), but I did see your thumbs up! Good to know!

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

I love it when you and your mom review books together. I've got a copy of this one but I've not read it yet. I tried to read her last book and didn't get very far with it, but I'll be sure to give this one a fair shake.

BTW, my two Random House sales reps are hosting a Booktopia in Bellingham. The occasion is sold out already, but if you weren't already aware that it was going to happen in 2014, I wanted to let you know.

Laurie said...

Thanks for stopping by, Christine and E. When will you be posting your thoughts on this one, C?
You too, E;I'd love to know your response. Thanks for the kind words and for the heads up about Booktopia. If there's anything I can do to help your RH colleagues while they're here, don't hesitate to put them in touch with me.

Anonymous said...

Great review! I love Allende and was excited to hear about this latest. It's waiting for me on my Kindle...

Laurie said...

Glad to hear that you'll be enjoying Maya's Notebook this summer!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for being on the tour.

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