I’ve wanted to read one of Lisa Yee’s books for a long time. Not just because they sound awesome, but because she does too. I’ve been a member of The Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) for a few years now—if you have an interest in children’s books, get yourself to their website and join, pronto!—and she’s one of the (many) authors who seems to have a really positive presence in the organization. I’ve seen her answer the message board posts of other (often aspiring) writers, and she just seems, well, really super nice. So when I was browsing my local bookstore the other day and came across a book called Absolutely Maybe (featuring a pink-haired girl on the cover) by Lisa Yee, I snatched it up.
“Maybe” is short for Maybelline (well, actually, it’s short for Maybelline Mary Katherine Mary Ann Chestnut), the protagonist of Lisa Yee’s sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking YA novel. The plotline (in a sentence) is this: Maybe drives across the country from Florida to Hollywood to find the father she’s never met. But the heart of Absolutely Maybe doesn’t lie with the plot. It lies with the characters.
At one point, early in their journey, Maybe looks at herself and her two best friends through the eyes of a waitress at a roadside diner: “The waitress stares at us like she’s never seen a white boy with and Afro, a Thai boy with slicked-up hair, and a Goth girl with pink hair” (45). The waitress can’t see Ted’s ability to make Maybe laugh even when things seem to be at their worse (and they get pretty bad) or Hollywood/Daniel’s unwavering devotion to Maybe and his dream of filmmaking. The stranger taking orders can’t see any of the things that make Maybe endearing to her two best friends, and actually, neither can Maybe. So, yah. She’s looking for more than just her dad. Even if she doesn’t quite know it.
Ted and Hollywood/Daniel are really great—and unique—sidekicks, but Yee’s roll of memorable characters doesn’t stop with them. There’s Jess, who works in a Taco truck, introduces Maybe to the wonders of perfect carnitas, and offers Maybe both friendship and a much-needed job. There’s Maybe’s ex-stepdad Sammy, his girlfriend Willow, and the beastly girls who attend Maybe’s mom’s charm school. And then there’s Chessy. Maybe’s mom. A larger than life character (she wears the shoulder pads to prove it) who’s a presence, always, even when Maybe’s thousands of miles away.
I’d recommend Absolutely Maybe to anyone looking for a realistic story with a little drama and a little humor and a lot of surprising and interesting and unusual characters. I’d recommend it to people who like stories about friendship or family problems or running away to a new place. I’d recommend it to readers who have an interest in film and those who haven’t quite figured out what their interests are. And last, but not least, if you’ve ever though about dying your hair blue or pink or green or, even, cutting it all off, you might find a kindred spirit in Maybe. It’s absolutely maybe possible that you’ll find something you didn’t even realize you were looking for.
[Yee, Lisa. Absolutely Maybe. New York: Scholastic, 2010.]