Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Color me bluish purple

Now that I'm tending towards old, I'm full of advice for my young friends: grab those travel opportunities and see the world. Once you acquire the family, the mortgage, and the need for money to afford them, you'll regret that you didn't. Do they listen? Well, Zeeta's Rumi-quoting, crystal-loving mother Layla definitely heeded this advice, but -- to Zeeta's frustration -- she never stopped traveling in order to get that mortgage and that steady job. She did, however, have Zeeta when she was 20 years old and the two of them have led a nomad's existence ever since.

Zeeta's fed up. She's lived 15 places in her 15 years and she wants nothing more than to move to Maryland and start living that middle-class American dream. Instead, she finds herself in Otavalo, Ecuador. Zeeta keeps a journal where she writes all her thoughts about her life: who she meets, what she does, who her father might be, what she thinks about her situation, etc. Each place she's lived has a different colored notebook. The Indigo Notebook is the first in a series from Laura Resau about Zeeta and her travels.

During her first few days in Otavalo, Zeeta meets Wendell -- an OtavaleƱo who was adopted at birth by white parents. Wendell doesn't speak Spanish and he asks Zeeta to help him with his search for his birth family. Their quest takes them to a nearby small town, Agua Santos (?), and eventually to the story of his birth and adoption. Zeeta finds herself falling for Wendell, but she's not sure if he returns her affection.

At the same time, Zeeta's mother seeks enlightenment by immersing herself in a river near a mystical waterfall. She nearly drowns in the attempt. Following this scare, something changes in Layla -- she starts acting like the mother Zeeta thinks she wants: She begins dating a man with a job, she plans her ESL classes ahead of time, she visits fancy resorts and [gasp!] goes golfing, she begins watching television. Zeeta is appalled. And when Wendell gets in some serious trouble, Zeeta just doesn't feel like her mother is available to help her. The two teenagers face some pretty nasty characters, characters with machine guns and a penchant for poisonous snakes and plants.

A listener gets such a sense of place in this novel. Otavalo and its surroundings are another character. The market scenes are vivid. Every time Zeeta and Wendell get on that bus to Agua Santos, I'm crammed in there with them. But, while I liked Zeeta and Wendell, their story is pretty predictable. I could see what was coming pretty early on (well, maybe not the poisonous snakes) and wondered how on earth Resau was going to fill up the other half of her book. And while the second half isn't boring, it does feel like there's a bit of padding in there.

Narrator Justine Eyre reads this story. Like all the audiobooks I've heard her read, she reads this one with emotion and a commitment to the story. All her characters speak differently and appropriately; dialog sounds natural. Her Spanish-inflected English is consistent, and in the few cases where actual Spanish is spoke, Eyre's accent sounds right to me. Her precise way of speaking -- which I've mentioned before -- seems appropriate here: Zeeta tells us that she has an unusual American accent.

I'm not fond of her portrayal of Layla, who sounds overly affected and a bit too, well ... new age/woo-woo. You can argue that that is exactly who Layla is, but it bothered me while listening. It reminded me of another novel (different narrator) with a flaky adult and a "sensible" teenager.

In the nothing-t0-do-with-the-audiobook category: I really enjoyed Red Glass, but found this to be a distinct let-down. I'm (in an offhand way) curious how Resau thinks this concept can stretch to a series of novels; Zeeta's at peace with her mother, she's got a boyfriend, she's planning for her future. What's left? More beautiful scenery? Well, I guess that's why I'm not the novelist!

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