Friday, July 5, 2013

Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende

I LOVED this book.  I hesitated to start it at first because I thought it might be too difficult to read, but once I picked it up I couldn't put it down.  Maya is a 20 year old American girl who gets sent to a remote island in Southern Chile to escape her past.  She was abandoned at birth by her mother to her paternal grandmother, Nini, and step grandfather, Popo.  Her father, a pilot, constantly flew in and out of her life and really had little influence on her childhood.  Nini raised her with a loving but firm hand - instilling social activism and a love of the mystical beliefs of her native Chile.  But Maya adored Popo, a large, African American astronomer who doted on her from the moment her mother abandoned her to his large hands.  Despite the early abandonment, Maya's childhood with her grandparents is happy - they constantly travel and seek out other adventures - and they always make room for her between them in bed when she suffers from insomnia.  Maya's life turns at 16 when Popo dies of cancer.  In her grief she turns to drugs, alcohol, truancy and petty crime.  Her sordid life is revealed when she is hit by a car while cycling drunk and her father cuts a deal with the court so she is put into a juvenile rehabilitation centre instead of prison.  But when her time is just about up she escapes - in part to punish her father for leaving her there.  After a harrowing experience hitchhiking she ends up in Las Vegas where she takes up with drug dealers and criminals and becomes a full fledged addict running from both the mob and the authorities.  We learn all of this through Maya's notebook which she keeps after narrowly escaping her life in Las Vegas and being sent by her grandmother to stay with an old friend in Chile.  She is taken in without question and cared for by both the friend Manuel and all of the locals.  There she gets the peace to come to terms with her past and learn more about her grandmother and Manuel's pasts during the Chilean Pinochet years.

I was completely engrossed in Maya's life - both the present and the past which were presented in alternating passages.  She meets some horrible people but many equally kind and caring ones.  And with time and distance from home she properly grieves Popo and learns what was perhaps his best lesson to her - to love herself as much as he loved her.

I was sorry the book ended - I could have spent many more hours with Maya.

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