Today, I am pleased to be bringing you my review of A Mentor and Her Muse, by Susan Sage. I’ll just go ahead and get the unequivocally boring bit done and then we can get on to the fun part of this review:-
***I was very kindly provided with a free copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. All the opinions stated below are my own ***
There – that wasn’t too painful… It’s just good to get those horribly necessary bits out-of-the-way. And now, for the review!
Under the guise of mentor and muse, a frustrated writer and her ambitious teenage protégé take an illicit summer road trip fraught with racial and sexual tension. This is a compelling psychological novel about social norms, artistic ambition, and obsession.
Maggie Barnett works in the media center of a school in Flint, Michigan where she meets Taezha Riverton, an aspiring teenage writer. After discovering that Maggie is also a writer, Taezha turns to her as both mentor and friend.
Alone and childless, it’s not enough for Maggie to take Tae to upscale restaurants and poetry readings; she has a more far-reaching vision. Although Tae’s mother has nothing against Maggie, she is less than thrilled when Maggie proposes to take her daughter on a summer road trip. Permission is never explicitly granted, but shortly after school is out for the summer, Maggie and Tae head for the Southeast.
Tae’s mother insists that Maggie return Tae to Flint, but Maggie instead takes Tae to a remote cabin outside Asheville, North Carolina. Growing evermore emotionally unsound, Maggie clings to the belief that living close to nature is the perfect therapy for her doubts and insecurities. Yet her role as mentor has now been supplanted to that of a drill sergeant, causing Tae to have serious misgivings…
The book’s narrative is exciting, enjoyable and well written, with each chapter, perspective and character voice distinctive from the others. I also appreciate the integration of the racial inequalities and prejudice present within society.
For me, the most enjoyable part of the book was the dynamic between Maggie and Tae; it is at times close, but in equal measure it can be electric and unpredictable. I found both of these characters to be incredibly relatable, even though they are both drastically different from one another. To master the depth of understanding required to properly articulate both of these characters, as Susan does, is an achievement worthy of recognition.
The differences between Maggie and Tae are set out early on. Maggie, now a fifty-something year old author, was brought up in wealthy and stable household – both of her parents were lawyers. Tae, our teenage protagonist, does not have this level of security at all – in fact, her mother Quintana struggles to pay the rent from month to month and raises a number of children, each demanding different levels of attention. The household is a chaotic comparison to Maggie’s upbringing; Tae, for the most part, shuts herself away in her room. It is from this unstable life that Maggie sweeps Tae away – and they go on a summer road trip! A writer’s retreat, as Maggie calls it.
Maggie assumes the role of mentor on the trip and through various “intimate” moments with Maggie’s thoughts (via her journal), we see the unstable side to her personality. Maggie is more dependent on Tae than perhaps she would like to admit, but her confessions about their relationship and her childhood explain why she wants to give Tae the opportunities she never had. Despite the best of intentions, Maggie is far from the perfect role model. There are concerns raised about the nature of her relationship with Tae, and in general for her welfare. When she discovers they are being followed… this tips her over the edge.
Their relationship is rocky, to say the least, as it transforms from a student/teacher semi-formal dynamic to a much closer one. At times they are on the same page, but gradually we see Tae beginning to write her own life story, and perhaps it was not the one Maggie had intended for her. The journey both Maggie and Tae take together can be interpreted as more important than the destination. The bond that forms between them is unique and the experience is a learning curve. As the trip comes to an end, it is evident that both Maggie and Tae have learned and matured from the experience of being around the other.
As a reader, you are absorbed into the story right away, experiencing the highs and lows of the trip as if you are tagging along with them! Again, I cannot highly commend Susan enough for her ability to step wholly into the shoes of Maggie or Tae, she keeps their identities definitively separate yet coherently pieces together the road trip from each perspective, with common themes.
Thanks again for the privilege of reading A Mentor and Her Muse – it is an enjoyable and captivating read!