Nineteen-year-old Maya Vidal of Berkeley, California, is a natural blonde (“with hair dyed four primary colors”), single (“due to a lack of opportunities rather than by choice”), loves to play soccer, and is currently in Chile, “the country of my grandmother Nidia Vidal, where the ocean takes bites off the land and the continent of South America strings out into islands”. More specifically Chiloe, an archipelago with about two hundred thousand inhabitants. She is also on the run from the FBI, Interpol, and a Las Vegas criminal gang, as she explains to Manuel Arias, an old friend of her grandmother’s who has agreed to give her refuge.
So other than the Chilean setting, it’s not exactly your typical Isabel Allende fare there. It’s a very different Allende, at least from the impression I have from the few books I’ve read of her thus far (although I should note that I’ve not read any of her books published in the last decade) – more contemporary than her usual historical fiction, with no dabbling in the magic realism that she is known for.
Maya is such an interesting, flawed and honest character. And the narration, in the form of her journal, draws the reader right in to her life, her troubles, her emotions.
Maya was more or less raised by her grandparents, her mother having abandoned her not long after she was born, her father, a pilot, is seldom at home. And so her world falls apart after her beloved grandfather Popo dies. Her Nini ages overnight and locks herself in her grief, not really noticing when Maya drinks “whatever she could get her hands on, from gin to cough syrup, smoked marijuana, was dealing ecstasy, acid, and tranquilizers, stole credit cards, and had set up a scam inspired by a television program in which FBI agents pretended to be underage girls to trap depraved men on the Internet”.
But after an accident involving a car and a drug- and alcohol-addled Maya on a bike, Maya gets sent to an academy for unmanageable teenagers in Oregon. Little does everyone know that things are just going to get worse.
These flashbacks are interspersed with Maya’s current sober exile in the sleepy Chilean town, with no cellphone, no email access – by choice that is, she’s probably the only disconnected resident in town. She assists Arias, an anthropologist and sociologist, with research for his book on magic, and teaches English and basic computer skills at the school. The town and its inhabitants grow on her. And she begins to discover herself and her family’s history in Chile.
Maya is such an unforgettable character. Sure, there were plenty of times that I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her to her senses – she is after all, only 19 but has been through so much. But she has a big heart, and quite a story to tell. And Allende has done such an excellent job capturing Maya’s voice – at times tough and full of angst, at others so vulnerable, so delicate.
Maya’s Notebook was one of my favourite reads of April – spanning Berkeley, Las Vegas, Oregon, Chile, well-stocked with unconventional characters, full of life, full of heart.
I received this book for review from TLC Book Tours.
Check out the rest of the tour stops:
Wednesday, April 24th: Twisting the Lens
Thursday, April 25th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, April 29th: A Dream Within a Dream
Tuesday, April 30th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, May 1st: Peppermint PhD
Thursday, May 2nd: A Bookish Affair
Monday, May 6th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Tuesday, May 7th: Drey’s Library
Wednesday, May 8th: A Bookworm’s World
Thursday, May 9th: Speaking of Books
Monday, May 13th: Olduvai Reads
Tuesday, May 14th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, May 15th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Thursday, May 16th: What She Read … – joint review
Monday, May 20th: Book Club Classics!
Tuesday, May 21st: Man of La Book
Wednesday, May 22nd: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, May 23rd: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Born in Peru and raised in Chile, Isabel Allende is the author of many bestselling novels, including, most recently, Island Beneath the Sea, Ines of My Soul, Zorro, Portrait in Sepia, and Daughter of Fortune. She has also written a collection of stories; three memoirs, The Sum of Our Days, My Invented Country, and Paula; and a trilogy of young adult novels. Her books have been translated into more than 27 languages and have become bestsellers across four continents. In 2004 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Allende lives in California.
The House of the Spirits (1982) La casa de los espíritus
The Porcelain Fat Lady (1984) La gorda de porcelana
Of Love and Shadows (1985) De amor y de sombra
Eva Luna (1987) Eva Luna
The Stories of Eva Luna (1989) Cuentos de Eva Luna
The Infinite Plan (1991) El plan infinito
Paula (1995) Paula
Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses (1998) Afrodita
Daughter of Fortune (1999) Hija de la fortuna
Portrait in Sepia (2000) Retrato en sepia
City of the Beasts (2002) La ciudad de las bestias
My Invented Country: A Memoir (2003) Mi país inventado
Kingdom of the Golden Dragon (2004) El reino del dragón de oro
Zorro (2005) El Zorro: Comienza la leyenda
Forest of the Pygmies (2005) El bosque de los pigmeos
Ines of My Soul (2006) Inés del alma mía
The Sum of Our Days: A Memoir (2008) La suma de los días
The Island Beneath the Sea (2010) La isla bajo el mar
Maya’s Notebook (2011) El Cuaderno de Maya