Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Indigo Notebook or Why I Ate Quinoa Last Night

I'm a big fan of Laura Resau's first two books, What the Moon Saw and Red Glass. (Disclaimers are so in right now that I feel like I should put that at the bottom--Disclaimer: I do not know Laura Resau, but I really like her other books and I read her blog sometimes.) When I heard that she'd just started a new series, I was pleased but surprised. YA series are not the most common thing (despite the fact that almost every book seems to be one of a trilogy these days), so I sort of assumed we were looking at something Babysitters Club-esque, or maybe like SASS, which it sort of resembles on the surface. Nope. Not. At. All. (I confess that I have yet to make it all the way through a single SASS book, even though I love the idea; I was hooked on this from the first paragraph.)

Resau's new Notebook series follows 15-year-old Zeeta and her mother, Layla, an itinerant ESL teacher. Each year of Zeeta's life they've moved to a new country. You know Layla now, don't you? You already know that she wears wrap skirts and quotes Rumi. What keeps Layla from being a cliche? You met her when you went to Thailand and Guatemala and Ireland. She's real.

And your mind is already turning, isn't it, thinking of what it would be like to have Layla for a mother? I am completely in love with Zeeta. If I wanted to be anyone else when I was fifteen, it was her. She's pretty and interesting and comfortable with all kinds of people and speaks seven languages fluently (over a dozen not so fluently) and somehow escapes being annoying. She's like Polly O'Keefe without the self-absorption. I'm afraid I'm making her sound like a Mary Sue, and in fact I do sort of wish she had more flaws, but I swear, to read Zeeta is to love her. I'm so looking forward to traveling all over the world with her. (Next stop: Provence.)

This first book in the series takes place in Ecuador, and the first sign that I wasn't in Babysitters Club territory was the richness of setting. It's obvious that Resau knows her Ecuador, but it comes out of her naturally, without delving into travelogue territory. The last two days I felt like I WAS in Ecuador, and so the only possible thing I could have for dinner last night was Ecuadorean quinoa vegetable soup from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes--you may think you've never been that interested in going to Ecuador, but after reading this book, I predict you'll be looking up plane fares.

The setting and lovely characters are definitely the strengths of the book; to be honest, it gets a little overdramatic in the last part with a lot of cloak-and-dagger stuff, and maybe a little sentimental about international adoption (Zeeta's buddy is an American boy who was adopted from Ecuador as a baby and is back seeking his roots). But those characters! That setting! The food!

Now, I don't know how long Resau plans to make this series; I think it will be a challenge to keep it from being too Cherry Ames, with a new love interest and a dramatic mystery for Zeeta in every country. But if anyone can do it, I think it's Resau, who just keeps coming up with creative and original takes on YA. The fact that Zeeta and Layla stay in each place for a year will help, because that gives enough time to really develop the situation; it won't be like Zeeta is facing a near-death experience or being held for ransom every month.

I think your bright middle-schoolers and maybe high-schoolers will love this series. I was desperate to travel when I was that age, and it seems like something even more teens aspire to now. Zeeta is both a real girl (multiracial, by the way) and a wish-fulfillment fantasy, something YA can never have enough of.


Sandy D. said...

This sounds good. And since I just finished "Secret of the Andes", I wouldn't mind something a bit more interesting about the Andes (the food references were one of the few things I liked in Clark's book, and that was a stretch).

Laura Resau said...

Thanks for the lovely review, Wendy! How cool that you felt inspired to make quinoa soup. That made my day... ;-)(I've made that Moosewood recipe, too!) You inspired me to post the quinoa soup recipe that my Ecuadorian friend Maria Virginia gave me -- here it is! . I might post a few of her other recipes this week, too. Thanks again!