Last Wednesday my CLW book was Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan (2008). I procured that book on the same day I requested a copy of Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee (2009). While reading this book I was struck by the similarities between the two characters (apathetic/angry, fixated on eyeliner) and even the books themselves (the covers just seemed very close to me for some reason perhaps because I really liked them both). I don’t know if it’s relevant to the review, but I just wanted to get that out of the way.
Onward to the review:
Meet Maybelline Mary Katherine Mary Ann Chestnut (“Maybe” for short). Maybe was named for her mother Chessy’s favorite brand of mascara and two of Chessy’s favorite Miss Americas. Living above her mother’s charm school, perhaps it’s not surprise that a lot of what Maybe does is part of a backlash against her mother.
Chessamay Chestnut Abajian Wing Marshall Wing Sinclair Alvarez (and soon to be Himmler) is a serial marryer. Somehow she winds up married to every man she dates–everyone except Maybe’s father who remains a mystery.
Most of the time, Maybe can deal with all of that. Sure, her mother’s charm school students taunt her and constantly make fun of her baggy clothes and funky hair colors, but they don’t matter. Neither do Chessy’s not-always-so-gentle criticisms. Maybe is above all of that. At least until Chessy chooses her sketchy fiance over Maybe, which is the last straw and convinces Maybe that she has to leave her hometown. And her mother. For good.
So Maybe recruits her best friends Ted and Hollywood to go with her to Los Angeles to find Maybe’s father. Once the trio gets to LA they soon realize that the search will not be easy. Finding money and a place to live is hard enough, but finding a man you know nothing about on top of that is even harder. While Ted is building his career and Hollywood is making a film, Maybe finds herself adrift in her search.
Along the way they encounter a lot of things: a screen idol, a Rolls-Royce, a taco truck. Eventually, Maybe finds the father she’s been searching for albeit not where she had expected. Yee’s writing brings Los Angeles to life in living color hitting all the high points and tourist traps that readers will recognize from their own memories and travel research.
More important than that, Maybe finds herself. Not the beauty queen daughter her mother wanted, or the angry Goth teen she became in response to Chessy’s hopes, just herself: Absolutely Maybe.
Although this book is bizarrely similar to Vibes I’d say that Absolutely Maybe is for older teens. This novel is gritty. Nothing about Maybe’s life is easy at the beginning of the novel. Even when she gets to LA, Maybe and Ted find themselves homeless and scrounging for meals. Yee handles all of this with enough gravitas to make it realistic and enough humor to make it bearable.
Maybe is a really fun character with lots of snark and heart, the only problem (and maybe this is me) was that I kept misreading her name as the word “maybe” which required some necessary re-reading. This story is also populated with some of the best side characters ever. To say Ted and Hollywood are awesome is to belittle the greatness of both characters. Ted’s exhuberance and enthusiasm are infectious, coming straight from the page to the reader. And Hollywood is Hollywood. He was so well-realized as I read this story that when Maybe referred to his as “cowboy” it was enough to picture his entire personality.
I’m a bit torn about the ending of the novel because it is not the ending I wanted per se. In a way this further illustrates the “gritty” realism of the novel. I wanted the Hollywood/fairy tale ending whereas the book gave me a more realistic, still satisfying, ending. I am not, however, holding that against Lisa Yee or Absolutely Maybe. It just means this book requires more imagination about what happens outside of the pages.
An excellent coming-of-age novel, Absolutely Maybe is like nothing else, which is appropriate since Maybe is an unforgettable, unique heroine (and her friends are pretty memorable too).
Possible Pairings: The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, Miss Smithers by Susan Juby, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Book of Love by Lynn Weingarten, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin