4 out of 4 stars
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"I wouldn't classify what I did as a crime, rather as sort of a vigilante justice. Some, I'm sure, will believe I should serve a prison sentence for what I did, while others will conclude that I was both her mentor and her friend." A Mentor and Her Muse by Susan Sage
With one of the best beginnings I've read in a long time and depending on the point of view, this moral quandary persisted throughout the book. Needless to say, I was hooked.
Fifty-year-old Maggie Barnett is working in the media department of the school library when she meets talented Taezha Riverton. Frustrated by her own writing career, Maggie is determined to mentor Tae, an aspiring teenage writer. In addition to mentor and muse, they develop a friendship. Concerned about Tae's life at home with a mother that drinks too much and whose current boyfriend has started making advances toward Tae, Maggie decides to take her on a road trip for the summer. Tae's mother first seems agreeable to the idea, but when she begins to express doubts, Maggie and Tae leave Michigan anyway without explicit permission. They make several extended stops along the way as they travel to North Carolina to visit Tae's Uncle Tyler. As the story unfolds, Maggie's family background and history of loss provide clues to her obsessive attachment to Tae, whose suspicions about her own family are confirmed. Social issues such as prejudice, poverty, sexuality, and racial tension are addressed as seen through the eyes of both Maggie and Tae.
Sage has really mastered page-turning tension--I found this well-written novel hard to put down. The story alternates between the third-person perspectives of Maggie and Tae, with the occasional journal entry or poem written in the first-person narrative. Considering their age difference, the varying perspectives, and vocabularies, the dialogues are realistic and engaging. They each have a definitive voice, and it is apparent who is speaking.
Typically, I connect with complex characters that I can somehow relate to, even if I don't necessarily agree with their actions. However, it requires an exceptionally skilled author to create a character that gets under my skin in a such a disturbing way as Maggie. At the beginning of the story, I was drawn in, wanting to give her the benefit of the doubt. As the plot progressed, it became evident that Maggie was deceiving herself; yet her motives were often a mystery. Was she inappropriately attracted to her 15-year-old muse, Taezha, or simply living vicariously through her? Tae was equally well-developed in a more endearing manner, evoking my protective nature as a parent. Though I was alarmed by Maggie's obsessive attachment, she did possess redeeming qualities, and ultimately her actions helped Tae.
On the other hand, with such a promising beginning, the plot lost momentum along the way, and I found the ending slightly underwhelming. Even so, overall, I found the book worthy of a 4 out of 4 stars rating. It appears to be professionally edited, as I noted only a few errors. Due to profanity and sexual content, it is intended for mature readers. I recommend the book to readers who enjoy psychological dramas that challenge social norms. If you tend to view issues with a black and white approach, this may not be the book for you
A Mentor and Her Muse
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