Wearing a shirt for the Dead Kittens Band, complete with graphic images, was not the right choice of attire for Mona Lisa LaPierre’s senior year. It got her some strange looks and a one-way ticket to the principal’s office. Bigger than the shirt, though, in Mona Lisa’s mind is the mystery of what happened to Mia Delaney, a student who died in the school years before. Wakanaki Blues by Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, sets out to solve the mystery and usher Mona Lisa into adulthood.
Mona Lisa is not an average high school student. Her parents are serious academics and chase their interests all over the world. Mona plays the blues on her trusty guitar, Rosalita. She immerses herself in music and in her ability to sense spirits. When a flirtation with a classmate seems set to move forward, Mona Lisa is forced to move to her grandfather’s rustic cabin. It is here, with her grandfather, her other relatives, and the spirit of her ancestors that she is able to move more fully into herself.
There are so many good things about this book. First, the characters are not stock, standard cutouts. They are interesting and complex. Mona Lisa is not your typical, vapid high schooler and neither are her love interests. The Mohegan and Abenaki cultures are presented as integral to life, and their traditions are celebrated and validated. I liked this in particular. I felt as though Mona Lisa had an identity—she belonged somewhere. In addition, her family—from her grumpy grandfather to her aunt, Black Racer Woman, were well-drawn characters.
My issue with Wakanaki Blues was the plot. It was all over the place. First, I thought the main plot was about solving Mia’s murder. (It is solved). Then, I thought the book was a coming of age story about her finding a boyfriend. Then, it became a book about her music career. (Both her and a love interest are mentioned as becoming famous, and then it is rarely mentioned again). Finally, I thought it might be a book about family reconciliation. Having finished the book, I am still not sure plot is central to the book. The multiple plot-lines were not confusing to me—they were just not complete or fully realized. This really affected my enjoyment of the novel.
I applaud the settings and characterizations of the novel, but the plot fell flat for me. A tighter focus (and some showing and not telling) would make this novel more compelling.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina