The Indigo Notebook by Laura Resau
Zeeta and her free-spirited, wanderlust, ESL-teaching, Rumi-quoting mother Layla have lived in 15 different countries. That's one country for each year that Zeeta has been alive. And for each of those countries, Zeeta has kept a notebook (well, since she could write, at least) that holds her observations, thoughts and the stories of the native people. This year, the year of living in Otavalo, Ecuador, Zeeta has an indigo notebook.
Now, more than ever (she's just three years away from going to college) with the year-after-year of moves and making new friends and learning new customs Zeeta wishes for her mother to finally grow some roots and just "stick." And, maybe, Zeeta's wish is going to come true in Ecuador. Even while enlisting her newfound friends at the local market to find a potential suitor for her mother Zeeta notices subtle changes in her mother. Because, after a near-death experience at a waterfall her mother is beginning to morph into somebody who could be more tradtional, more grounded, more parental. Layla goes from having a boyfriend that is a surfing clown (even down to making making balloon animals) to one that is more stable and has a career in the business world. During this time Zeeta has met an American teenager named Wendell who has traveled to Otavalo to find out the identities of his birth parents. Zeeta agrees to become his translator and they set out on a journey to learn of the Otavalenos and the Quechua Indians that might hold an answer to Wendell's heritage. And, Zeeta, besides being tasked to help Wendell to find answers to his own life (and mysterious abilities) might be finding out that maybe the life she's always been dreaming about isn't exactly what she wants after all.
I am eternally grateful that I listened to this book. I am not the best with languages and knowing how to pronounce words in languages other than English (sometimes that gives me issues, too, but I digress). This book was sent in Ecuador and, even though I didn't actually see any of the words, I knew that I would never get anywhere close to right pronunciation as the narrator could do and be even better at it. So, her being able to pronounce the foreign words correctly and use the right accent (probably--who am I to judge whether or not an accent is correct but it sounded good) far outweighed my problem with her sounding a little too old for the character of Zeeta. All of the other characters had complimentary voices but for some reason I had a problem with the way Zeeta's voice sounded. But, that distraction was minor.
I had never read any of Laura Resau's books before and I'm glad this was my initiation. Her descriptions of the area were so well written and articulated that I felt I was right there eating bread in the village of Agua Santa with Mamita Luze (like I said, I listened to the book so I have no idea if I am spelling any of these correctly). Or, I felt like I was sitting with Zeeta and her merchant friend, Gabby, at the Otavalo Market. I felt from Resau's descriptions of these places that she had to have personally visited and loved it (click on the links to Laura's personal blog postings about the book which includes recipes and pictures depicting her time in Ecuador). There was so much depth to the location, people and food that I wanted to move Ecuador up on my list of places to visit (even though I had never thought of visiting there before).
Not only was the location a character unto itself but the characters were so well crafted that I wanted to join them at the market or other locales so lovingly depicted. Zeeta, having such a "flaky" mother had to be mature for her age, was the best person to go on a journey through Ecuador with. She was travel-hardened and she knew what to do so she wouldn't stick out in a new country. She was the best person for "fish-out-of-water" Wendell to have as a guide in the search for his birth parents. Her mother was just the right amount of flaky that it wasn't overboard and she still seemed like a somewhat responsible adult. The rest of the native Otavalenos and Quechua Indians were wonderful secondary characters and, like most villages/towns/cities of the world they had the good and the bad residents.
I don't think I realized how much I enjoyed this book until I started writing down my impressions and am surprised at how much stuck out with me. It might have been the bit of "offness" to narrator's portrayal of Zeeta that threw me from realizing on how much I was enjoying this book. Or, I think at the time I thought maybe it was just about a teenage girl, who wasn't really regular because of all the places she had lived, but she had a mom who wasn't her ideal (how many teenagers think the exact same thing?) and a life that wasn't as perfect as she wanted (again, same teenage thought train here, right?). But when I got right down to what I enjoyed it was the lovely, descriptive writing style that pulled me into Zeeta's life and the lives and locations in Ecuador.
So, I know I said at the beginning that I'm grateful that I listened to it but maybe it was a good thing I can't for the life of me find an audio version of the next chapter in Zeeta's life, The Ruby Notebook (although I'm sure I'll be retracting that thought when I have trouble pronouncing all the French words--thank goodness for Google translate).