________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 20 . . . . June 10, 2005


Maya Running.

Anjali Banerjee.
New York, NY: Wendy Lamb Books/Random House (Distributed in Canada by Random House
of Canada), 2005.
209 pp., cloth, $22.95.
ISBN 0-385-74656-3.

Subject Headings:
East Indians-Canada-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-11 / Ages 11-16.

Review by Michelle Warry.

**** /4


For now, the house belongs to me. When the grownups are gone, the rules relax and walk around in their underwear. I lock the front door, peel off my outside clothes and run to the hallway mirror. My cheeks are flushed. My eyes are shining. Do my braces show? Do I have a booger in my nose? Is there a spot on my forehead where a bindi should go? I'm not thinking about Cousin Pinky or the Ghoses or Brian the bully. They all file into my blind spot while my mind whirls around Jamie Klassen. My friends have crushes on him, but he wants me to listen to records before his father gets home tomorrow. Too much is happening too fast.

First, I need lip gloss. Bonne Bell. I wish I could get my hair cut and feathered, but Mom won't let me yet. I need Joy or Chanel. I tiptoe into my parents' bedroom. Where's the perfume?

I check the nightstand on Dad's side. . . . Rifling through the drawer, I feel vaguely guilty for trespassing. Nickels and dimes have fallen to the bottom. Dad leaves change everywhere, in piles straight from his pocket. He doesn't keep track of details like coins, safety pins, or stories I've written for him. His mind reaches out to travel at the speed of light.

Dad is a hip version of Einstein without the frizzy hair or wrinkles. He drinks Glenlivet, smokes sweet-smelling pipes, listens to Hair the Broadway musical, goes to parties. Dad is one of a kind.

Indianess is also rubbed into him like permanent dye. . . .

I pick up a few nickels-picture of a beaver. . . . The old Canadian folk song comes into my head: Land of the silver birch, home of the beaver, where still the mighty moose wanders at will. Blue lake and rocky shore, I will return once more. . . .

Instead of "O Canada," I would much rather sing this beautiful folk song in class. The sweet tune brings an ache to my heart. This is my home.

What a joy it is that a strong and distinctive Indo-Canadian voice has been added to Canadian young adult fiction. Anjali Banerjee's style shares much with other Indo-Canadian writers -- lush, delicious diction, surprising, delightful similes -- but is also completely fresh and original. She seems to be one of the first Indo-Canadian writer to venture into writing for this age group; the sooner this lack is remedied the better, for both literary and multicultural reasons.

     Readers aged 11 through 16 will certainly be delighted with Maya Running. Not only is its language beautiful, but it has an engaging plot and interesting characters. Better still, the story seamlessly combines elements of sharp realism, dreamy fantasy, and striking Indian myth.

     Protagonist Maya is contending with all of the challenges that make adolescence a trial: looking for a boyfriend, balancing her schoolwork, negotiating for power with her parents, trying to be cool. As well, though, she must contend with her dissonant feelings of duality: she feels neither completely Canadian nor truly Indian. Banerjee handles this tricky theme both with sensitivity and vigour, and she creates an identity conflict to which all second generation Canadians will surely be able to relate and with which every teen should be able to empathize.

     Just when Maya thinks she's got things figured out, her beautiful, glamorous cousin Pinky arrives from India. Pinky sweeps Maya's friends, parents, and crush off their feet, launching May into seething discontent. In desperation, Maya wishes on a golden statue of Ganesh, the Indian elephant-headed god who "makes obstacles disappear." The resulting situation is very much a case of "be careful what you wish for, you might get it." In order to bring her small universe back from chaos and into alignment, Maya must put things right. She goes on a long journey only to discover back at home that she had the power to fix things all along.

     This story works so well in so many ways. As a piece of literature, it is excellent. As a treatise on multiculturalism, it can help to build bridges and empathy. As an allegory of identity-development and growing up, it will be of psychological use for young adults. Maya Running stands out among the crowd of usual lukewarm YA offerings; Banerjee's new novel is red hot.

Highly Recommended.

Michelle Warry has a Master's degree in Children's Literature from UBC. She teaches Children's Literature at the University College of the Fraser Valley and through Capilano College's Continuing Education program.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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