Shelf Awareness Book Talk: *Have Mother, Will Travel* by Claire and Mia Fontaine

Have Mother, Will Travel: A Mother and Daughter Discover Themselves, Each Other, and the World
Claire and Mia Fontaine (Facebook)
William Morrow (July 2012), Hardcover (ISBN 0061688398 / 9780061688393)
Memoir, 320 pages

A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (July 27, 2012).

Opening lines, from the Introduction:
“‘One word, Mia–schistosomiasis.’
“An occupational hazard of writing is research; you look up the risks of eating sushi and five hours later you’re an expert on the Loa loa eyeworm and the E. japonica flatworms that are teeming in rivers like the one my grown daughter, my only child, wants to plunge into today.
“I’m holding the bathroom stall door closed for Mia at Kuala Gandah, an elephant rescue sanctuary located in the rain forest of Malaysia’s Pahang region, where we’ve come to ride the elephants and learn about their rescue programs. They allow a handful of visitors to ride the big gals into the muddy river and cavort with them as their handlers scrub them down. My devil-may-care daughter is among the select.
“Look, I’m a big risk-taker, an intrepid traveler, but I stop at taking home larvae as souvenirs.”

Comments: Ten years after the events described in their earlier mother-daughter memoir, Come Back, Claire and Mia Fontaine’s connection has grown shaky. When she’d had to, Claire stepped up to the mama-bear role and got her daughter–drug-addicted and out of control, acting out in response to sexual abuse by her biological father–on the road to recovery. Mia’s now a healthy, independent twentysomething finding her way into adulthood, and as Claire’s role in her daughter’s life has changed, she’s losing her own footing. The Fontaines decide to address their respective and shared crises by going abroad together; they begin with a round-the-world, month-long scavenger hunt, followed by a season living in France.

As they step out of their comfort zones and embark on foreign adventures (in more ways than one) together, Claire and Mia interact with one another in ways they never have before. Often, parents and children are ill-prepared for the natural shifts in their relationships as those children become adults, even when those relationships have not been tested by crises as the Fontaines’ was. Under rather abnormal conditions, they’re working toward a sense of normalcy.

The narration of Have Mother, Will Travel alternates between Claire and Mia, and even if the shifts weren’t signified by changes in font, their voices and styles are distinct. Claire is both chatty and philosophical, often reflecting on the universal experiences of motherhood and characteristics of the mother-daughter bond in particular as she observes it across cultures; Mia’s sections are more introspective and focused on the personal. Have Mother, Will Travel offers a unique perspective on the growth of the parent-child relationship.

Rating: 3.5/5 

Book description, from the publisher’s website

A mother, a daughter, and a life-changing adventure around the world . . .

Their bestselling memoir, Come Back, moved and inspired readers with the story of Mia Fontaine’s harrowing drug addiction and her mother, Claire’s, desperate and ultimately successful attempts to save her. Now it’s a decade later and Claire and Mia each face a defining moment in her life, and a mother-daughter relationship that has frayed around the edges. At fifty-one, Claire’s shed her identity as Mia’s savior but realizes that, oops, she forgot to plan for life after motherhood; Mia, twenty-five and eager to step outside her role as recovery’s poster child, finds adult life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Determined to transform themselves and their relationship once again, the pair sets off on a five-month around-the-world adventure.

What awaits them is an extraordinary, often hilarious journey through twenty cities and twelve countries—one that includes mishaps, mayhem, and unexpected joys, from a passport-eating elephant to a calamitous camel ride around the Pyramids—and finally making peace with their tumultuous past in the lavender fields of France, where they live for the last four months of the trip. 

Wiser for what they’ve learned from women in other cultures, and from each other, they return with a deepened sense of who they are and where they want to go—and with each embracing the mature friendship they’ve discovered and the profound love they share.

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