Every year Zeeta and her mother, Layla, move to a different country. Zeeta gets settled in, makes new friends, and Layla gets the itch. This year Layla has chosen Ecuador. Besides her one year itch, another of Layla’s other many flaws, according to Zeeta, is her taste in men. Layla goes for clowns, more specifically wayward philosophers who are balloon-making clowns by day — highly unreliable and highly inappropriate for someone Layla’s age. Zeeta longs for Layla to put down some roots. She wants Layla to find a steady man with a steady job and a retirement plan. She wants Layla to stay in one place for more than a year. She wants a home in the suburbs not a hut by the beach or a tiny apartment with questionable bathroom facilities. In Ecuador, Zeeta meets a boy named Wendell who comes from a family that has all that she is longing for but it’s not enough for him. Wendell is American and only speaks English but he was adopted from Ecuador and looks like the indigenous people from the area of Ecuador where Zeeta is staying. Wendell loves his adopted parents but longs to find the birth parents who gave him up. Zeeta agrees to help him as translator and savvy traveler tour guide. While Zeeta is helping Wendell, Layla has made some changes, including finding a man who fits all of Zeeta’s criteria. Both Zeeta and Wendell are longing and searching something — the ideal life, the ideal family — but will either of them be happy with what they find?
Reaction: Laura Resau is an amazing writer and really deserves way more recognition than she gets. I don’t read a ton of realistic fiction and I’m really bad about reading books that take place outside of the Western world but Resau writes both together and I will always read what she has written. What to say specifically about the book? It’s great! Read it!
Ok, more detail…Zeeta is a fairly compelling character. While she leads a life of which many would be envious, she longs for some normalcy and routine. Zeeta has had to be the “adult” in the relationship — making sure her mom’s paperwork is filed in each country, dealing with household bills, helping the food stretch when there isn’t any money to buy more — so it isn’t any wonder that she would long for an environment where she can just be a teenager and not have to worry about such things. I would have to say my major criticisms of the book would be that Zeeta too quickly realizes that normal is not for her and that Layla’s transformation was just a bit too dramatic. The story kind of shifted focus to Wendell and didn’t leave time to truly develop the “maturing” Layla and Zeeta reactions to her mother’s changes.
On to Wendell. Trusting Wendell. Wendell wants his birth parents to be good, kind, caring people so badly that he is willing to overlook almost anything to have it be so. I loved reading Wendell’s letters to his birth parents that he wrote while growing up. They show his changing feelings regarding his birth parents as he matured. He began with not really wanting to have anything to do with them, wanting to be completely American, but as he grew he also grew more curious about his ancestry. His curiosity grew even stronger when he developed a strange, inherited (he believes) ability that he doesn’t feel he can discuss with anyone. Zeeta helps support Wendell as he searches for a family that may or may not exist, or may not exist in the way Wendell wants it to exist, but there are some things, some mistakes Wendell needs to make on his own.
Much more than a story about two teenagers, it is a story about the country, its people, traditions, and flaws. Many secondary characters help add wonderful flavor to the story and to the surroundings. I am definitely interested to see where Zeeta, Wendell, and Layla will end up next.