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Maya Running

Maya Running

5.0 1
by Anjali Banerjee

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Maya Mukherjee doesn’t fit in. She was born in India and her parents moved to Canada when she was a baby. Now it’s the 1970s, and she’s a middle schooler in Manitoba, land of moose and snow. She wants to run on the tundra beneath the Northern Lights, make igloos or snow-angels, see John Travolta, and ride elephants through the Bengal jungle the way


Maya Mukherjee doesn’t fit in. She was born in India and her parents moved to Canada when she was a baby. Now it’s the 1970s, and she’s a middle schooler in Manitoba, land of moose and snow. She wants to run on the tundra beneath the Northern Lights, make igloos or snow-angels, see John Travolta, and ride elephants through the Bengal jungle the way her great-grandfather did. Then her gorgeous cousin Pinky comes from India for a visit, bringing a statue of the god Ganesh, the Remover of Obstacles. Maya asks Ganesh to remove all obstacles to her dreams. Like most wishes, it backfires in hilarious and painful ways. Maya must journey across continents to restore the truth and find out who she is.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Thirteen-year-old Maya is caught between the white, racist world of 1970s Manitoba and her Indian family and traditions. "An often touching debut novel that should appeal to readers who have ever felt torn between two cultures," wrote PW. Ages 10-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
This is the first novel by Banerjee, and it is a delightful one. She creates the character of Maya Mukherjee, and places her in Manitoba in 1978, as the only Southeast Asian in her middle school. Maya's parents are highly educated, loving, and understanding—they are talking about moving to California, which would mean the family's situation would change drastically. Maya doesn't want to go, especially since she is attracted to Jamie Klassen, a handsome boy at school, who is wild and troubled. She can't really process her own Indian heritage and how it influences her life. Enter her cousin, Pinky, who comes for a visit from India, bringing with her a small Hindu elephant god who grants wishes and speaks directly to Maya. The little god Ganesh changes Maya's life entirely by letting her see what life would be like if all "obstacles to her happiness were removed." So, when we get what we want, are we truly happy? Maya at first is ecstatic; Jamie likes her, her parents decide not to move, she can understand Bengali, she loses her awkwardness and learns to dance, she has a closet filled with beautiful clothes, her hated braces are off her teeth . . . you get the picture. This journey to find out what she truly does want, now that her immediate wishes have been granted, takes her to India, where she meets her extended family, is reunited with Pinky, and slowly feels more integrated, not just different. All told, it is a wonderful story that could be about any young person trying to figure out who he or she is; and how an adolescent can emerge from a nurturing family, part of that family, but also an individual. Perfect for multicultural collections. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended forjunior high school students. 2005, Random House, Wendy Lamb, 209p., Ages 12 to 15.
—Claire Rosser
Children's Literature
Thirteen-year-old Maya wishes her glamorous cousin Pinky could come for a visit. That wish comes true, but turns out to have repercussions that Maya in her impulsiveness has not anticipated. Gripped by jealousy, she begs the elephant-headed god Ganesh to remove all obstacles from her life—is not that what his role is? As Maya crosses the threshold from the real to the magical world, at first it seems to her that the rules have changed in her favor. Suddenly, however, it becomes apparent that there are no rules and she is caught up in the runaway consequences of her thoughtless wishes. In the end, when her cousin leaves and it feels the life she knew is tumbling in ruins about her shoulders, Maya and her father make a whirlwind trip to India to seek the precious Ganesh statue and set things straight again. Banerjee's novel effectively juxtaposes the cultural ins and outs of being a Canadian of Indian origin, with the universality of teenage longings. The narrative voice rests securely with Maya, even when she has to stretch to make meaning from her rapidly changing sense of the world. The time period of the story is sketched in with a light hand—the Parti Quebecois has just asserted itself, and the Bee Gees are featured on tee-shirts. Banerjee is at her best when she is peeling the layers of family relationships. Mrs. Ghose's shock at Maya's lack of Bengali skills, Dad yelling on the phone line to India, Pinky's takeover of Maya's bathroom—these can amuse all readers while ringing ruefully true to those who have been there. Finally, her treatment of Lord Ganesh himself succeeds in capturing that subtle combination of familiarity and respect customarily invoked by thisdelightful Hindu deity. 2005, Wendy Lamb/Random House, Ages 12 up.
—Uma Krishnaswami
Maya would like to change some things-her father's annoying habits, her mother's strict rules, and her own straight-as-a-stick body. Born in India, Maya loves living in rural Manitoba, but she is unsure how to blend into Canadian culture. There is no question, however, about her attraction for handsome Jamie Klassen, and Maya is surprised to discover its mutuality. When Maya's cousin Pinky visits from India, she dazzles Jamie while performing Kathak dances in her colorful sari. Maya turns to Pinky's golden statue of Ganesh, the god who removes obstacles. Ganesh comes to life, requests jelly belly candy, and Maya feeds him and pleads for changes. When Maya does not find the answers for which she was searching, Maya and her father travel to India where Maya seeks Ganesh's help again. Along the way, Maya discovers real insight into her family, her self, and her future. Banerjee incorporates her life experiences into this imaginative tale and paints vivid scenes of life in a town along the Winnipeg River. The setting is 1978, and through school bully Brian, Banerjee also underscores the ugly prejudice that was commonplace. Brian liberally labels with the "N" word everything strange and foreign. Without preaching, Banerjee wisely allows her readers to judge his folly. Likeable characters, broad humor, and a mild love story guarantee appeal to middle schoolers. Although a few plot threads are resolved superficially, this book is an enjoyable read and has a contribution to make to multicultural collections. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2004, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 224p., and PLB Ages 11 to14.
—Barbara Johnston
Kirkus Reviews
"I'm not sure what I'm made for, and I'm not sure how Indian leftovers got into my lunch box." Though born in India, Maya has grown up in Manitoba, and loves its landscapes and its snow. She's the only non-white person at her middle school, which seems to get her pegged for anything "exotic," and yet she's also clearly not Indian enough for her relatives. She makes a desperate plea to a statue of Ganesh, who turns the tables on Maya's world, changing her and her family and friends to what in her imagination should be perfect. Realizing what a nightmare her "perfect" world is, Maya goes on the run to track down Ganesh and get things back to normal. This otherwise engaging first novel takes quite a turn half-way through as it departs into fantasy, which is awkwardly resolved. Most readers will hold on for the ride and will at least enjoy Maya's humorous voice and her familiar situation of being different. (Fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.19(w) x 6.88(h) x 0.62(d)
Age Range:
12 - 13 Years

Read an Excerpt

D Dr. Ghose's mouth blows Bengali bubble-words, which the boys understand. I can tell by the way their bodies shift, the way they nod at the right moments. Bengali is part of their lives, like combing oil through their glistening hair or praying to Hindu gods.
Envy digs into me, a craving to understand Bengali.
"Baba, I'm not hungry," Sahadev whines, pushing the glasses up on his nose.
"Me either, I want to play," says Vishnu, the great god with his underwear showing.
"Ah, come, you love samosas, homemade, lovely, lovely," Dad says from the doorway. He does the Indian sideways head nod around Indian friends. It's like Halloween. He wears his Canadian costume for Canadians, the Indian costume for Indians.
As Indian tradition dictates, the children eat first. Mrs. Ghose and Mum hover in the background, filling plates and glasses. I sit very still and eat with knife and fork, keeping my elbows off the table, while the boys stuff their faces with their hands, smearing dahl around their mouths.
The adults' voices fade into a murmur of blood rushing in my ears.
"Look at Mayasri," Mrs. Ghose says. "She is being so good. Why can't you boys be so good? She is an example for you. Maya, have more rice and dahl? So thin you are. You are not eating. Kamala, has she become thin?"
This is what Indians say even if you weigh a thousand pounds. I am Skinny Future-Girl with buckteeth and braces.
"She keeps quite busy," Mum says. "Ballet, skating, cross-country skiing--"
"All those extracurricular activities? And her studies? She is doing well?"
"Quite well. Highly commended."
I am on display.
"Boys, Mayasri excels in her studies, dances the ballet and what are you doing? Playing video games. Lazy boys." Mrs. Ghose whacks Vishnu on the head hard enough to knock a chunk of samosa from his mouth. He grabs a spoon to fish a pakora from his glass of milk.
"She also plays the piano quite well," Mum says.
Mrs. Ghose's eyes nearly pop out of her head. "She will give the boys lessons?"
I want to say No, thank you, I won't give your irritating great god any stupid piano lessons.
"If she has time." Mum frowns, allowing me this much. Next to Mrs. Ghose, Mum looks young and slim and beautiful. She doesn't seem comfortable either. I bet she wants to run home and tear off the sari. But she's Indian. She grew up in Calcutta. She can speak the language, make Bengali food, and wear a bindi on her forehead. She can fit in if she wants to.
My throat closes over a lump of dry rice. A terrible idea occurs to me. This supper is a setup. Mrs. Ghose wants me to marry either Sahadev or Vishnu in one of those arranged marriages. Why else would I be here? I'll have to run away.
Now all the grown-ups crowd into the humid kitchen. I'm trapped in a Bengali movie without subtitles. As they talk, everyone laughs and cries at the right parts, while I sit clueless in the middle.
"Yes?" I look up and blink. I have accidentally disappeared inside myself again. Mrs. Ghose--Auntie Mitil--stands across the table, staring.
I glance down, thinking maybe I dropped curry on my T-shirt. Everyone stares. Conversation dribbles down a drain. I wait for the marriage plan.
Mum has gone into the other room with Dad and Dr. Ghose. They're discussing a brass table imported from India.
Mrs. Ghose repeats the phrase in Bengali. A question.
My throat goes dry. I nod. Maybe a yes will suffice, or a shake of my head, but still she stares.
Sahadev throws a pakora at Vishnu's head, and the great god sticks out his tongue, letting a slop of chewed glop fall on his plate. Sahadev says Ew and snorts milk out his nose. The boys break into gales of laughter while Mrs. Ghose smiles with affection, her expression saying You boys will fetch a huge dowry someday.
That's the way things are in India. The girl moves into the boy's house and dumps loads of money on his family. This is one reason I think Dad wishes I was born a boy, his first and only child. What he doesn't know is I will never get married, so he won't have to worry about going broke.
This time Mrs. Ghose hurls the question, a spear with a poison tip.
Sickness comes to my stomach. I gulp. "I--don't--speak--Bengali."
Sahadev stops his spoon in midair. Vishnu closes his mouth. Mrs. Ghose's eyebrows fuse, pulling her face toward its center.
"Bangla bola na!" Slowly she shakes her head. Pity drips from her voice. "Ah, Maya."
"She doesn't speak Bengali?" Sahadev gazes up at his mother in disbelief.
"She doesn't, stupid," Vishnu hisses across the table.
"Why?" Sahadev stares at me.
I say nothing. My parents like to have their own secret language. In the other room, they shift easily back and forth between Bengali and English.
"What was your question?" My voice comes out way too Canadian. My words slide and bump into each other.
I don't belong here. I imagine saying Excuse me, it's rude to speak in front of me as if I'm not even here, and we're not in India anymore, we're in Canada now. I imagine getting up, walking out into the snow, hitching a ride home.
But I sit stupidly in my chair.
"Bangla bola na!" Mrs. Ghose's voice fills with wonder, as if I'm a rare shooting star. She turns and throws papadum to sizzle on the stove.
The matter is closed.
Sahadev and Vishnu return to their play fighting. I sit stunned, my mind whirling.
"Can I use your washroom?" I ask, nearly choking. Nobody replies. I say louder to Sahadev, who sits closest, "Washroom!"
He points to the door. "Upstairs."
I dash for solitude across the green shag carpet and up the stairs. Voices and sitar music drift from the lower level. For a short time, nobody will miss me. I stop to catch my breath and notice old yellowed photographs on the hallway walls. The Ghose ancestors gaze from their finery, flowing silk saris and heaps of jewelry. They sit in ornate chairs in palatial rooms. Wealth trickles from their shoes. How could these Ghoses have come from those Ghoses?
I wonder about my ancestors. Who were they? My great-grandfather was conservator of forests for Bengal, wrote volumes about the flora of Assam. My grandmother opened a university for women and then died of pleurisy in the Himalayas. She was only thirty-eight. My parents crossed the Atlantic when I was two months old, and here I am. These snippets of knowledge are puzzle pieces strewn across a table, waiting to make a picture.
I peek into a bedroom through an open door. One thing about me--I can be nosy when nobody's around. There's a double bed between two nightstands. On the chest of drawers sits a large wood carving of a many-armed god with an elephant's head and a rotund belly. Plates filled with candy surround him. The elephant's round face is kind, caring. A glow of comfort infuses me. Staring into the jolly elephant face, I could swear that he is alive, watching me.
"Lord Ganesh," Dr. Ghose says from behind me, "Remover of Obstacles. Very fond of sweets. Consult him in times of difficulty, but be careful. He's a bit of a trickster. Always playing jokes."
I turn, heat rising in my cheeks. "I--was just looking for the washroom."
Dr. Ghose points down the hall and smiles.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Anjali Banerjee lives in Port Orchard, WA.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Maya Running 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A respected literary figure once proposed the question, 'Why must all the good things belong to the past?' With her debut novel, Maya Running, author Anjali Banerjee places that somber notion squarely where it belongs - at the end of the emotional queue alongside disheartened, dispirited and despondent. Although published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House created to appeal to children and young adults, Maya Running has a great deal to offer those of us not in Generation Y. Baby boomers (like me) and Gen Xers (like my grown children) can find pleasure and profit in this charming novel. Think The Color Purple by Alice Walker or The Bluest Eyes by Tony Morrison then add a touch of sweet and dash of late twentieth century savvy, and you get the story of Maya Mukherjee, a Canadian born girl of Indian descent searching for her identity. From first page to last, I was enchanted with Ms. Banerjee's original and unique narrative voice, the delectable unification of teenage humor, hope, awe and envy. Her characters are clearly drawn and the relationships effectively established. When I read the book, Maya's challenges and successes strolled pleasantly beside me, unhurried and unforced, a testament to Ms. Banerjee's workmanlike pacing of story, plot and dialogue. All good things do not have to belong to the past. Maya Running reminds old folks that no matter how packaged or marketed, there's still plenty of simple joy in the here and now. Remember the last time your rode in a limousine with the windows down? William Schroder, Author of Cousins of Color