Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Melody Carlson Blog Tour Day 3 - Mexico

Today I'll review Mexico - the third book in Melody Carlson's young adult fiction series Notes from a Spinning Planet. The books are self-contained stories and need not be read in order, however the adventures start in Ireland, continue in New Guinea, and arrive in Cabo San Lucas for this latest installment.

Through the eyes of 19-year-old Maddie Chase, with Aunt Sid - her friend and confidant - by her side, the readers will learn about the world, different cultures, and themselves. The target audience for these reads are women in their teens (or anyone who enjoys quality YA fiction). They explore such themes as love and friendship, peer pressure and relationships, as well as drugs and alcohol, sexual temptation, and other timely and culturally relevant topics.

In "Notes from a Spinning Planet - Mexico" (available to the public August 21, 2007 from WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House) Maddie is now twenty and is celebrating Christmas break with some friends in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a paradise at the tip of the Baja California peninsula. This first-person travelogue/diary adventure works pretty well to cover some relational and moral issues (without being heavy handed) by interspersing a bit of conflict, romance and mystery into this vacation story. It's a nice, fast-paced read, great for wrapping up the Summer at the beach or pool.

Although a book with Christian themes - we see Maddie struggling to incorporate her faith and prayer into her life - it can appeal to a broader audience. In fact, this is one of the tensions that religious authors face: balancing real world issues within a Christian context all the while remaining sensitive to the mostly SAHM (stay at home mom) readers. So if I were to voice a criticism, it might be along these lines.

Okay, here it goes. First, I like the author's writing style (first person, present tense is different enough from the norm that it keeps you engaged) and I appreciate Carlson's efforts to bring timely issues to the fore. In this book, however, alcohol and how to handle it is a running theme. And since Maddie our protagonist is only 20, when she's seen with a drink in hand it seems the author is condoning underage drinking (albeit in Mexico where the age limit is lower, I assume). Now another character is on the verge of teenage alcoholism and Maddie and her friend seek to help her and "intervene" - well, that's good. But it seems the overall message is "just be careful not to get drunk." And that makes for a hollow solution to this pervasive problem of underage drinking.

Don't want to leave a review on a downer, so a second, more prominent theme running through the book is self-sacrifice. Carlson handles this well which even prompts a bit of mystery, which helps the story's pace and overall quality. Recommended, with a caution: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Another Review at Beth's And Then I Woke Up...
(also read her thoughts in the comment section regarding alcohol)

Another Review at Laura Williams' Musings.
(Laura has a similar concern as me)

Another Review at Our Seven Qtpies.
(for yet another perspective on the issue)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great review, Lyn!

Thank you for linking to my review.

beth said...

I know in the Ireland book Carlson was careful to point out that the legal age for drinking was 18 and how that made it not illegal. I believe (but I'd have to go back and check) that she did the same thing with Mexico. So I'm pretty sure she's not trying to advocate underage drinking - since they're not underage in the country they're in. So, if there's not an illegal aspect (i.e. they're not underage) then the message of "don't get drunk" isn't really a bad one.

I think it ties into Paul's assertion that "Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial." And she does (I felt) make the point that there really is very little benefit to drinking - and that there's certainly no benefit to excessive drinking.

That said, she does fail to address any moral/theological issues surrounding drinking (in Ireland, she skirted the issue neatly by having Aunt Sid say that the matter of whether or not to drink was "between Maddie and God." So she very clearly made it a personal decision. From a "try to be marketable to every Christian audience" standpoint, I understand why she went ahead and put it that way -- but I think she could have very easily left out any instance of the main characters drinking, simply addressed underage drinking, and still had a tight, well formed story. This certainly is the case in the Ireland book as any drinking was purely social and completely unrelated to the plot.

Good review! (And good, also, that you picked up on some of the inherent problems with the drinking - I suspect that because I don't have kids, I didn't read it with my the mindset of "would I want my child getting this message".)

Merrie Destefano said...

Interesting review, Lyn. It sounds like a great book. And how funny--three blog tours in one week! Well, you'll get lots of traffic that way.
:)

Qtpies7 said...

Thanks for linking to me! I went back and forth on the drinking. I'm not hung up on the whole religion/drinking issue, but I do not want my kids drinking illegally. But if we went on a trip to Mexico, I would let my older teens have a drink, A drink. But I do think the book could have had a deeper conviction on the issue, one that goes beyond religion to the safety and stupidity of drinking.
I don't know what I'm saying, lol, I've only had 5 hours of sleep!