Title: Maya’s Notebook
Author: Isabel Allende
Release Date: April 23, 2013
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Maya Vidal is anything but your typical teenager. After her beloved grandfather died, she acted out to the extreme, living a life on the cheap thrills of crime and drugs. Now, Maya is in Chile, where her grandmother sent her after rescuing her from this life. But what happened to Maya back in the United States, and why, of all places, did Maya’s grandmother send her to this remote Chilean island?
Maya’s Notebook is just that—written as a notebook or journal that Maya keeps during her days in Chile. This style works well for the novel; it’s intimate, yet allows the reader to understand Maya’s innermost thoughts. Despite the fact that it may seem like a slow, contemplative novel when it first begins, Allende knows how to ramp up the suspense. It becomes a taut narrative, juggling between Maya’s past and present, revealing key details and plot points at the perfect pace.
Despite the fact that Maya’s Notebook is about a teenager, it is anything but a teen-oriented novel. Maya is wise beyond her years, and for good reason. The things she’s seen and experienced are absolutely horrific. As her past comes to light, and the reasons she’s in Chile become clearer, readers will feel her desperation and fear. It’s true that her struggles do stem from her own teenage rebellion, but Maya is a sympathetic character, and the situation quickly spirals out of her control. Though you know that Maya will end up okay, as she’s escaped to Chile, it’s still nail biting to read through.
But there is mystery in Chile as well in Maya’s Notebook. It’s definitely a reflective story, but one that moves forward in the present as well as in the past. Who is the old man that Maya is staying with, and why won’t he talk about his past, under Chile’s dictator Pinochet? Allende delves deep into Chilean history here, and though it can be difficult to read about at times, she captures both Chile’s past and present wonderfully. The atmosphere, the setting, the descriptions—this is a book that will come alive while you’re reading it.
Maya’s Notebook definitely isn’t a book for everyone, but if you enjoy gritty novels with wonderfully written, yet flawed, main characters, and some history thrown in just for good measure, then this is a book you should definitely consider. Maya can be difficult, but at the same time, it’s hard to not feel real compassion for her. Allende keeps the story paced well, and past and present flow seamlessly together. All in all, it’s a book that can be difficult, but is also thoughtful and eye-opening.