Catherine Barnes is in the midst of a family crisis. Her husband Elliot has admitted to affairs with his students. Her 14-year-old son Isaac is flunking out of the eighth grade. What's the solution for all of her problems -- a trip to the Mayan village of Todos Santos in Guatemala!! Todos Santos by Deborah Clearman offers vivid picture of a town seeped in political and religious unrest. A town that doesn't openly accept foreigners.
Rather than let Isaac try improve his grades in summer school, Catherine takes him along for the ride. While she searches for inspiration for her next picture book, Isaac will be under the care of his feisty Aunt Zelda. Catherine hires a guide -- Oswaldo -- to take her to Todos Santos or the town of 'All Saints.' The town is under the spell of a charismatic preacher Baudilio, and a mayor willing to do his bidding. Baudilio sparks fear in the town, telling them foreigners are Devil worshippers and possibly even baby snatchers. Catherine fights to understand how people can just take Baudilio at his word. Despite the problems, Catherine is undeterred in her mission. She finds herself drawn to the town and to Oswaldo.
"Catherine already felt she belonged here, in this high valley, on this terrace. Maybe she would never go back."
While Catherine is discovering herself, Isaac is doing what any teenager would do. Getting himself into trouble!! He befriends Bernie, another American teen. The boys get themselves lost in a sea of drugs and lazy afternoons. The boys set out on a covert journey to a coastal town. Trouble and tragedy soon come. Rather than face the music, Isaac compounds his problems by aiding in his own kidnapping. The idea for the kidnapping is planted by a local hustler named Carlos. Isaac is immediately wracked with guilt.
Upon learning of the kidnapping, Catherine questions her abilities as a mother. "A good mother doesn't just go off to search her soul when her child is in crisis." If she were a better mother, Isaac would still be safe. If she let him go to summer school, Isaac would be safe. Maybe if she keeps her family intact, Isaac will always be safe. Some people in Todos Santos have become so seduced by superstition, they mistake Catherine's grief for Devil worship.
Catherine and Isaac's fight to reunite is very suspenseful and heartfelt. Clearman tells the story from both of their perspectives. Both of them are fighting for redemption. Isaac fights to believe he is worthy of his parents' love, and Catherine wants to believe she is a good mother. Clearman's own experiences in Guatemala give her a unique perspective. Knowing she's been there makes the novel feel more authentic. The storytelling and plot are well-done, but I'm torn. I didn't dislike the book, but I wasn't overwhelmed either. I'm in the middle. Which makes it tough to rate. But, if you want to learn about new cultures and go on a journey of self-exploration, I say give it a try.
Rating: Give it a try
Notes: I received a copy of the book from the author's publicist. For more information on Deborah Clearman, go to http://www.deborahclearman.com/