You know when you’re reading a book – even a mostly interesting book — but you reach a paragraph or page that’s over-written, over-described, over-dense, confusing or just plain boring?
So I can’t praise highly enough the novel that I finished reading last week. “Maya and the Book of Everything” kept me glued to its pages right to the end.
This shouldn’t be. There are many different characters, the book skips from one time and place to another and takes fantastical twists. And yet, the storytelling is seamless, the characters compelling, the dialogue convincing, the quest believably and skilfully portrayed. It was a pure pleasure to read this book.
What makes me even more pleased? This book about a teenaged girl who takes on a seemingly impossible mission is from a small press, and authored by Laurie Graves, a blogger you may know.
With this book, Laurie demonstrates formidable gifts and skill as a novelist.
“How did you make the characters so believable?” I asked Laurie.
“I originally envisioned Maya as more timid, but when I thought of all she’d have to face, I knew she couldn’t have a timid character. Maya wouldn’t have survived her adventures. So then I reimagined her as a fiery young woman, a girl of action—unlike me!—and I immediately knew this was the right way to think about Maya.
“Somehow the characters just came, and it wasn’t all that hard to keep track of them. For me each character has a vivid voice and a distinctive way of speaking.”
Where did the idea for the book originate? I asked.
Laurie got the idea for the book while editing a small literary magazine that she and her husband published.
“I used the Chicago Manual Style, not always an easy book to use. One day, I was tackling a knotty grammatical problem, and I said to myself, ‘I wish I had a book of everything.’ Then came the question: What if there were a book of everything? Where would it come from? What would it do? What kind of danger would it be in? Obviously, many people would covet a true book of everything. From this question came Maya and the rest of the story.”
Laurie is Franco-American. Her ancestors came to Maine from Canada. It was important to her that Maya and several other characters share that background.
“It is the place from which Maya springs, and her heritage, along with place, is one of the things that ground her.”
There is a real place in both Maya’s and Laurie’s stories.
“The street shot (below) is of East Vassalboro, a classic New England village where my mother lived for many, many years and one I came to cherish. It is also where Maya’s grandparents live, and East Vassalboro and its library are essential to the story.”
There are subtle but impactful messages woven through this book. Good leadership is one.
“The big messages are that facts do matter and that a place will suffer under a bad leader. The corollary is that good leaders are essential. On a more personal level, I wanted young girls to read about a plucky heroine who turned her face to the wind and faced difficult challenges.”
It’s a great read.
Look out for Book 2: Library Lost, coming next fall.