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