Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Indigo Notebook and The Ruby Notebook by Laura Resau: review and interview

My teenaged daughter and I agree: Laura Resau might very well be our favorite young adult author. Her lyrical prose, multi-aged characters and exotic settings would appeal to many adults as well as to teens. This globe-trotting author trained as an anthropologist, adding cultural depth to her stories.

The Notebook series follows Zeeta and her hippy mother, Layla, as they move to a new country every year by whim. Zeeta keeps a different colored journal for every country. The Indigo Notebook is set in Ecuador (photo at left) and The Ruby Notebook is set in Southern France (photo below.) Zeeta’s love interest in both books is Wendell, who was adopted from Ecuador and raised by Americans. He’s an artist with visions that come true. Like Isabelle Allende, Laura Resau weaves the magical elements into the narrative seamlessly, creating mystical realism.

Most young adult novels ignore the parents, but the most compelling character in the series is Zeeta’s mother, Layla, who seeks sacred waters, quotes Rumi (a 13th century Persian philosopher) and has flings with clowns. She’s a free spirit who treats her daughter like a sister, leaving Zeeta to worry about practical issues like saving money. Layla is a wonderful parent in other ways, encouraging her daughter to embrace life and non-materialistic values. All Zeeta knows of her father is that he had dark skin and made love to her American mother on a moonlit beach in Greece.

Nonetheless, The Notebook series is suitable for tween as well as teen readers and bridges the gap between middle grade and edgier young adult fiction. If anything, The Indigo Notebook is too innocent. I have only one tiny criticism about The Ruby Notebook: homing pigeons do not send two-way messages. The books should be read in sequence and are both wonderful. Even the covers are gorgeous. My daughter and I are not alone in our praise for Laura Resau's writing. Kirkus Reviews gave The Ruby Notebooka a starred review.

My 13-year-old Daughter's Review:

Laura Resau writes with such rich language and detailed description of character, place and actions, but still manages to be fast-paced and not at all boring. I fell in love with The Indigo Notebook when I started reading it. It is set up perfectly, and I was instantly intrigued by the character, Zeeta, who travels the world with her Rumi-quoting, capricious mother, Layla, whom I also love. It is most likely because I haven’t visited Ecuador- or in fact South America- that made me also very interested by the small village, Otavalo (photo at left), in which the book is set.

I really like Zeeta’s voice. It sounds like she has wisdom because of all the places she has been and yet still sounds like a teenager, but an intelligent, exotic one. I especially liked how she described her surroundings and wrote them all in her notebook, along with asking questions to people about hopes and dreams, then writing those down too.

The story line was very fresh and interesting, and was really fun to read. As for the love-interest portion, I thought it was good, and I liked it. However I thought it could have been a bit more…romantic? Most of the time it just seemed like they were good friends even when they were “boyfriend and girlfriend.”

The Ruby Notebook, the sequel, was spectacular as well! I thought it would be hard to live up to the first one, which I loved, but this one was amazing too! It had unexpected twists and turns, friendship, lovely characters, romance, and a very interesting plot. Once again I loved the setting, however not as much as the first one in Ecuador. The Ruby Notebook is set in Southern France, and Zeeta describes it beautifully, however since I have been to France, it wasn’t quite as intriguing or exciting as Ecuador to me.

minor spoiler alert for this paragraph:
My only other criticism of The Ruby Notebook would be that by the end when lots of exciting events were taking place, it was slightly disappointing to see that nothing much really happened after all the built-up suspense. Also, I slightly predicted a couple things that were true in the end. However, despite those minor flaws, this book was amazing, and very intriguing and fun to read. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series!

Our Interview of Laura Resau
author photo by Ian Schneider

Are you more like Layla or Zeeta? 
(Photo at left of Laura at Zeeta's age, sixteen.)

These were fun characters to write because in a way they represent very different, conflicting parts of my personality. Like Layla, I was an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher for many years, and like her, I felt incredibly alive and stimulated while traveling and living abroad. At one time, while living in Mexico, I considered leading a nomadic existence, switching countries every year or two. Instead, I ended up settling in Colorado, giving in to the "homebody" part of me that is more like Zeeta-- the practical part that craves a strong, stable community of friends. It was interesting for me to see this tension play out in the characters of Zeeta and Layla. That's a magical thing about writing-- you can live through your characters by letting them take a path you didn't.

What is the appeal of Rumi to you, and how did you form the character of Layla?

A few years ago, in a bookstore in the mountains, I stumbled across The Essential Rumi. His poetry and ideas resonated strongly with me, and I wished I'd been exposed to his work as a teen.  Later, as I was writing the Notebooks series, I realized that Rumi's philosophies fit beautifully with Layla's character.  She's very much into living every moment to its fullest and finding "enlightenment" in everyday things.  She takes Rumi's ideas to an extreme, in a well-meaning yet comical way.

I wanted Layla to be the kind of person you might roll your eyes at (as Zeeta does) but still adore… a person whose eccentricities just might hold some wisdom. I also hoped that my readers would become interested in reading more Rumi on their own.  (And based on the reader mail I've gotten about The Indigo Notebook, they have!)

How did your personal experiences of having an adopted brother from Korea (photo at right) and adopting your son from Guatemala shape the narrative and inform the character of Wendell?

While I was writing The Indigo Notebook, I was immersed in preparations for the adoption of my son—going to trainings, reading books, listening to panels of adoptees. I really wanted to be prepared so I could be as supportive as possible for my son in the years to come. As a child, I'd experienced many of the challenging aspects of interracial adoption with my brother (like hearing racial slurs, being told I wasn't his "real" sister, etc.).

In my reading, I learned the different interpretations, questions, and concerns that kids and teens might have about their adoptions over the years— feelings that shift as children go through different stages. I realized that my son will be curious about his birth family at some time in his life, which might result in searching for them, as Wendell does in my book.  Being an adoptive mother myself, I felt it was important to emphasize that Wendell's adoptive family is his real family, the one he belongs with, the one he was meant to be with. If I hadn't been an adoptive mother, I don't know that I would have had Wendell's adoptive parents make an appearance in the book. I also don't know if I would have made the spiritual connection between Wendell and his adoptive parents so strong and important.

You have a background in Cultural Anthropology; was the Indian mysticism in Indigo and the immortal waters and Celtic clan in Ruby based on reality or your imagination? How do you research your books?

The details of indigenous healing practices in The Indigo Notebook were based on reality. While doing research for another book (The Queen of Water) in the Ecuadorian Andes, my Quichua friends took me to visit a local healer who performed a cleansing ritual for me and a divination for my friend. The healing ceremonies described in my book are closely based on the ones I participated in (including having fireballs spit at me!) I was already familiar with these kinds of rituals, since I'd participated in similar ones in Mexico, and studied them in graduate anthropology classes. I took these real-life "mystical" elements and wove them into my fictional story.

As far as The Ruby Notebook, when I lived in southern France for a year at age twenty, I loved visiting the Celto-Liguric ruins outside of the city. I've also been long interested in Celtic mythology and mystical beliefs involving water. The Ruby Notebook contains some actual Celtic mythology and history, such as the handfasting ceremony, the Festival of Light, the instruments and outfits described, and the ancient conflicts between Celtic tribes and Romans. My imagination came up with the idea that this particular clan might have lived on through the millennia as guardians of the water.

My research process for my books always involves participant-observation, which is an anthropological term for immersing yourself in a culture by hanging out with people and helping them with everyday activities (like eating fresh baguettes…) Then I supplement my own experiences with book and Internet research (but the baguette-eating is more fun).

We appreciated the racial/cultural diversity in your books. Can you recommend other young adult novels that embrace diversity?

Thanks! Some YA authors to start with might be Mitali Perkins, Julia Alvarez, Pam Munoz Ryan, Traci Jones, Walter Dean Myers, Matt de la Pena.  If you're looking for fantasy/speculative fiction with interesting cultural settings, check out Nancy Farmer's The Eye, the Ear, the Arm (Africa) and The House of the Scorpion (Mexico.)

[Editor's note: my son and I loved The House of the Scorpion too.]

What is the best writing advice you received?

This always changes, depending on the nature of my current angst!  Lately, I've been trying to remember my friend and fellow author Laura Pritchett's advice, which she scribbled on an essay-in-progress of mine years ago.  She asked for "more heart."  Now, as I'm writing The Jade Notebook, I'm thinking how important it is to look into the hearts of each character, to infuse each and every one with tenderness and love and vulnerability and passion and yearning. This is not something you can do analytically—it's something you feel deeply, something that makes your characters come alive.

Can you give us a sneak preview of The Jade Notebook? Will there be more books (please!) in the Notebook series?

I'm so glad you're looking forward to The Jade Notebook! It will be the third and final installment of the series.  It's still a work-in-progress, but I'll tell you that it's set in a little beach town in Oaxaca, Mexico (based on Mazunte, my favorite beach town!) … and it involves sea turtles! The photo is of the cabana where I stayed during my research trip.

Thank you, Laura, we can't wait to read The Jade Notebook!

The Indigo Notebook (2009) is now available in paperback. The Ruby Notebook will be released on September 16, 2010 in the USA.

Reviewer's Disclaimer: I bought Indigo at Longfellow Books, having heard nothing about it before (the value of a good independent bookstore!) The publisher, Delacorte, sent me a free ARC of Ruby on my request and a second copy of Indigo, which my daughter claimed. Photos were taken by Laura Resau while researching her novels and reproduced with her permission.

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@Barrie Summy


tina said...

It sounds like a great experience for readers to travel to different countries through reading.

Thao said...

Sound like great books. I'd love to pick them up some time soon. Thanks for the interview too.

Laura Resau said...

I really enjoyed reading your and your daughter's thoughtful reviews. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Dear Sarah and Daughter, Thank you both so much for your interesting reviews of these novels. In addition, as always, it was good to hear from the author herself.

The aspect I find most intriguing here is the way in which the author sees herself in both the characters of the daughter and the mother in the novels. I am sure that this could be said for many of us, but she has explored this duality of character in a most refreshing way. I have not yet been tempted to read teenage fiction, but this just might lure me.

David Cranmer said...

I like the fact the mother is prominently featured and a different colored journal for every country is a sharp touch.

Terrific interview and reviews.

Ellen Booraem said...

Wow--mother/daughter reviews AND an interview! The magical element is what catures my interest, as usual, but the exotic settings and first-person research also are compelling.

Thanks for this (typically) informative package.

Sarah Laurence said...

Tina, you are right about books being a great way to travel, especially for teens.

Thao, I’d love to hear what you think of Laura Resau as a YA book blogger.

Laura, it was our pleasure reading your wonderful novels.

Edith, my daughter will appreciate getting a comment addressed to her too. Both you and Laura brought up interesting points about the mother-daughter relationship. I’m curious to hear what you make of these books as an adult fiction reader. The writing is certainly sophisticated enough for all ages although the perspective is geared for younger readers. YA is no longer just for kids, although some books, like these, cross that blurred line more readily than others.

David, the colored notebooks appealed to me too. I’ve kept a journal since I was 11 and each was unique.

Ellen, like you, Laura also writes MG novels.

Amanda Summer said...

wonderful - both your and your daughter's reviews (my what a mature voice, and so well-written!)

with a mixture of mystical realism, exotic settings, well-drawn characters and compelling story lines, this is a ya series i am definitely excited to read! also loved the author interview - thanks for sharing this~

walk2write said...

Your book reviews from a mother-daughter perspective challenge the status quo. It's important to see what different generations think about books. Sarah, I wonder if you could convince your mom to participate in one of your reviews? Now that would be something really different--three generations of readers giving us their impressions. I also enjoy your author interviews which add another dimension to the reviews. Most writers now seem happy to let us peek into their creative closet, something that writers from the not-too-distant past would never have considered.

Rose said...

Another great review, Sarah! Exposing young readers to other cultures is such a wonderful idea, and I like the fact that a parent figures prominently in these books. Too often they're absent or not very admirable.

Once again, your daughter's review is so impressive.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

These books sound lovely--I always find excellent recommendations here. And I loved your daughter's review!

After reading about Laura Resau's life, I feel like I need to get out into the world more!

Keri Mikulski said...

Wow!! What an amazing mother/daughter review and interview! :) Thanks so much for sharing. The setting sounds incredible. Happy Labor Day!

Stacy Nyikos said...

There are just too many good, richly textured books for me to keep up with. Such a terrible problem to have, right? Adding this one to the list!

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

So enjoyed hearing your daughter's perspective on this book - and, of course yours as well. What a nice inclusive project to offer your daughter. Interesting interview - wish my grandaughters were a few years older. Sounds like a great series of books that they could read.

A Cuban In London said...

The minute I read that the author was an anthropologist I knew I was in for a good treat regarding both review and interview. There's nothing like one's profession colouring works of fiction. As long as that knowledge is kept reined in and doesn't come across as academically patronising, that is. I enjoyed the interview. Thanks for the spoiler, by the way, it's great to read someone who tells it like it is and is not afraid to point out elements that were not as attractive as others.

I've been thinking about your novel recently. What with the scandal surrounding the Pakistani cricket players! :-)

Greetings from London.

Barrie said...

How wonderful to have two reviews of this book! And a great interview! These books sound delightful. I think I should read them aloud with child #4. Thank you!

Stacy said...

These books sound amazing. I'll have to pick them up this weekend.

Sarah, you always find the most interesting sounding books. I love reading your reviews.

Laura, loved reading the review.

kayerj said...

informative review and interview, I think I would enjoy reading this author. Thanks for stopping by my blog today--I'm sorry about talking about the ending to the story . . . . The Goose Girl was a very good read.

Willow said...

I loved reading both reviews, yours and your daughter's. I appreciated finding out that a book that now I want to read for myself will also work for middle school readers, as that's who I review for. Many thanks!

Laura Resau said...

Thanks to everyone for your wonderful, interesting comments! To follow up on a few of them...

Edith, I appreciated your interest in how the mother and daughter characters reflect different, conflicting parts of my own self. As far as adults reading YA fiction, you could check out a blog post I did about this a couple weeks ago-- .

walk2write-- I love the idea of three generations of women discussing and reviewing books. My first book, WHAT THE MOON SAW, has alternating chapters between a 14-year-old American girl and her indigenous Mexican grandmother, who tells the story of her own girlhood. I've talked to a bunch of granddaughter-grandmother pairs who've enjoyed it.

A Cuban in London-- Glad you're interested in the anthropological aspects of my writing. I did a pretty in-depth interview about the intersection of anthropology and fiction in my books at Charlotte's Library blog:

Thanks again for your enthusiasm!


Sarah Laurence said...

Amanda, your comment made my daughter very happy. I’d love to hear your reaction to this series.

w2w, that’s a nice idea, having 3 generations of reviews, but my mother is a private person, although a big reader too.

Rose, it’s often comical the extremes to which parents are missing in action in YA. Ironically, parents are more involved than ever with their children in the real world.

Alyssa, Indigo reminded me of how much I want to visit South America. My husband is 1/4 Chilean and has cousins there.

Keri, Happy Labor Day to you too!

Stacy, that is the best problem.

ACIL, the Notebook series is never didactic and yet we learned a lot. Yes, I’ve been following that cricket scandal, and it has given me some ideas. You’ll be happy to know I’m back to writing NOT CRICKET as of today, and there is a reputable Pakistani character. It must be so demoralizing to the fans in Pakistan to have a cricket scandal on top of the flood.

Barrie, it’s wonderful to have an independent reader now, but I miss reading aloud books to my children. I’d love to hear your opinion as another MG/YA author and a mother of an adopted child. Thanks for hosting the book club!

Willow, welcome to my blog! These books would be perfect for middle school.

Laura, thanks so much for joining us in this discussion and providing the links to those interesting posts. I found an overlap in our personal narratives: I started college as a Biological Anthropology major before switching later. It was nice to learn that you gave back to the native people who inspired your stories.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bonnie, the nice thing about books is they last as children grow.

Stacy, thank you. I’d love to hear your reaction to this series.

Kaye, your review did make The Goose Girl sound intriguing. Let me know if you review Laura Resau’s novels. She writes both YA and MG.

Sorry to post my replies out of order - it was a long day. It was a delight to read your comments.

Booksnyc said...

Thanks for introducing me to these books - they sound delightful. I like that there is a cultural aspect to the books.

TBM said...

These sound like books I would have loved when I was your daughter's age. Ok, my age too :-)

Thanks to you and your daughter, our "to-read" grows every week.

cynthia newberry martin said...

Man, you came back from vacation with a bang. I love the idea of this series and was sad to read at the end of the interview that she is stopping with three. The covers of the books are awesome as well. Great reviews, interview, and photos. Thanks!

Sarah Laurence said...

Booksnyc, I'm always happy to connect talented authors with thoughtful book bloggers like you.

JAPRA, you and Roxi will LOVE them. Enjoy!

Cynthia, I cheated. Laura helped me put this post together before my end of August vacation. I knew things would get really busy with start of term. I’m sorry to see the end of this series, but I’m eager to see what Laura will write next for teens.

Bee said...

Frustratingly, Blogger ate my long comment about this post! Another excellent review, Sarah. The first sentence was enough to get me to write Laura Resau's name on a sticky note. Your daughter writes so well, too. (I particularly enjoyed her use of the word "capricious.")

It's comforting to know that there are people like Laura Resau in the U.S. . . . and not just the "tea party" sort that are always drawing the media coverage.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, I loved playing with new words at my daughter’s age too. I’d love to hear your reaction to Resau’s writing. I think it would be a good match for your younger daughter. The Tea Party worries me. Fiction is the best escape.

MissA said...

Man I wish I could have 1) discovered the world of book blogs at the age of 13 and 2) written reviews so well. Concise while still providing enough info to keep me hooked :) Innocence is nice but hopefully some of it is lost in the second book...

I haven't even read the Indigo Notebook yet and I want to learn more about Rumi!

PS Sarah all your WiPs make me so happy and I have everything crossed for your success :D

Sarah Laurence said...

MissAttitude, my daughter was pleased to read your comment, thanks! The Ruby Notebook is more romantic and less innocent. Despite the PG relationship, this series would appeal to older readers too. Thanks too for the encouragement on my WIP. I hope to share good news with you some day soon.