- Why I read it: El Cono Sur, travel, identity crises, crazy mothers
- Disclosure: Passed on to me for review by an author, but not the author. (Thanks, Lyn!)
Zeeta's life with her free-spirited mother, Layla, is anything but normal. Every year Layla picks another country she wants to live in. This summer they’re in Ecuador, and Zeeta is determined to convince her mother to settle down. Zeeta makes friends with vendors at the town market and begs them to think of upstanding, “normal” men to set up with Layla. There, Zeeta meets Wendell. She learns that he was born nearby, but adopted by an American family. His one wish is to find his birth parents, and Zeeta agrees to help him. But when Wendell’s biological father turns out to be involved in something very dangerous, Zeeta wonders whether she’ll ever get the chance to tell her mom how she really feels—or to enjoy her deepening feelings for Wendell.Don't let the choppy summary put you off - The Indigo Notebook is one of the best "travelogue" YAs I've ever read, and given my penchant for travelogues, that's quite a compliment. A crazy mom, her down-to-earth kid, a sweet teen romance while on vacation? The whole thing should be a big cliche, but Resau creates a distinctive and believable voice for Zeeta that makes this a fresh and memorable read. A tad too formulaic, but memorable all the same.
Plus number one? It never tries to be straight up, info dump realism, incorporating enough "magical" touches (the waterfall, Wendell's gift) that we know the author is both paying homage to South American magical realism greats like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and is trusting us to be big kids with her research and figure out what's real and what's not. Resau uses Spanish without any annoying repetitious translations, and she even works in some Quichua (the Incan language that's more common than Spanish in a lot of places in South America). In short, instead of trying to bludgeon us over the head with the exoticism of her story - the problem with so much multicultural middle grade and YA - she leaves us alone to enjoy her world.
And, in another rarity for mainstream multicultural lit, the world actually takes backseat to the characters. From Zeeta's batty mom who reminded me of a brighter, less murderous Ingrid from White Oleander, to the sweet and goofy Wendell, Resau occasionally lapsed into caricature but mostly (especially in the case of Zeeta) gave us colorful characters that could stand head and shoulders above most of the YA crowd: especially, and thankfully, because of their lack of tortured-ness. A little teen angst, sure - I mean, this is a "searching-for-birth-parents" story with a little romance thrown in - but even on our most hardcore angsty days, teens are not as tortured as most YA would have you believe. Well...at the very least, we (I?) don't like to read about it, and Resau thankfully spares us without sacrificing the integrity of her story. One angsty moment I really appreciated was Zeeta's internal monologue about how she hated the "Biracial kids are always so cute" comments. Internal monologues are almost always not rad (seriously, Rose Hathaway? Just shut up), but this one added a frankness to the story I used to be guilty of making those biracial comments, until I thought about how it would make me feel and shut my big fat gringa mouth - Zeeta made me feel sheepish all over again.
Unfortunately, the ending was disappointing. Everything wrapped up a little too neatly, and while the actual mystery kept me guessing, the character arcs were frustratingly predictable. From the preview of the next book (The Ruby Notebook), it looked like we were really heading for cliche territory. Highlight for spoiler: Um...a love triangle? Right after the reader is d'awwwing over Wendell? No. No more love triangles! Resist temptation! Anyway, I'll probably pick up the next book if I run across it, but this series might have doomed itself to "brief fling" territory with the ending. We'll see.
Still, it's sweet and very different than most YA out there, but not in the hipster "look at me! me! meeeee!" way that some books seem to be in the counter-supernatural and -dystopia trends. (Bleeding Violet, for one, though Bleeding Violet deserves hipster squealing.) It's younger YA, but should still be interesting for older teens, and would add a lot of fun and swoonyness to social studies curriculums. In the end, it might not make converts of hardcore urban fantasy/dystopia/etc. etc. fans, but for those who crave a more international flavor, it's a great and unusual pick. Four out of five stars.
Now Listening: "Headfirst for Halos" by My Chemical Romance. (Is this really the same band that came out with Danger Days last year? They sound like a barely decent angsty garage band on this album. Huh. Well, I guess the angst part hasn't changed.)