Author: Tom Leveen
Genre: YA, contemporary
Publication Date: April 24, 2012 (expected)
Summary: For aspiring artist Amanda Walsh, who only half-jokingly goes by the nickname Zero, the summer before college was supposed to be fun—plain and simple. Hanging out with her best friend Jenn, going to clubs, painting, and counting down the days until her escape. But when must-have scholarship money doesn’t materialize, and she has a falling out with Jenn that can only be described as majorly awkward, and Zero’s parents relationship goes from tense to relentless fighting, her prospects start looking as bleak and surreal as a painting by her idol Salvador Dali. Will life truly imitate art? Will her new, unexpected relationship with a punk skater boy who seems too good to be real and support from the unlikeliest of sources show Zero that she’s so much more than a name
☆: 4/5 stars – not your usual YA contemporary novel!
Review: One of the most refreshing contemporary YA books of the year so far, hands down. I really enjoyed this one, guys, because it’s definitely not your usual YA contemporary tale. “Zero” deals with a few issues, but the one most important that YA doesn’t seem to talk about even though it’s kind of a big deal – if your biggest college dream falls through, what do you do next? “Zero” talks about what options are left, and the quarter-life crisis that Zero herself deals with a few years early, and I’m happy someone’s finally talking about it.
“It”, of course, being the new quarter-life crisis (something I myself am currently going through) – and it seems to be hitting people younger and younger. Zero unfortunately experiences this after a scholarship rejection to her dream school, SAIC. She doesn’t know what to do next, except to try out community college and then hope that maybe she’ll be able to transfer to a state school. Between a nagging mother and an alcoholic father that can’t seem to stop fighting for two minutes and the fact that Zero feels already like a failure. I thought that Leveen really did a great job here describing what the quarter-life crisis feels like, especially in the wake of the Great Recession and how it’s accelerated down to kids just getting out of high school. Whatever options Zero might have had before the Great Recession are greatly lessened or are just plain gone now that it’s hit, and while he didn’t talk about this too explicitly, it was there in the text all the same.
I loved how Zero/Amanda also fought with self-worth and body image – something that’s talked about in YA but usually couched in books about “tough stuff” like eating disorders and depression. Yeah, Zero has every right to be depressed (I know I would be in her situation), but Leveen also kind of underlines the fact that girls can have huge body image issues and not have an eating disorder or other severe self-harm problem. Zero is healthy about it and gets it out through her art, which was refreshing. I found it surprising that a male author would understand how a girl can have body image/self-hatred issues and not have an eating disorder – it seems many female authors don’t seem to understand that, or if they do, they don’t talk about it in their books. So four for you, Leveen, for getting that.
The rest of the book is very well executed in terms of arc, character journeys, setting. Though I felt there were parts that were more telling than showing (many of the scenes that took place at the Hole come to mind), overall I was pleasantly surprised at how sensory Leveen got in terms of describing art as a physical sensation. I absolutely loved those passages that talked about art as an extension of the body, and they were among my favorite parts of the book. And the character journeys are great – even the most minor characters have their own little journey, and that’s hard to create in a standalone. Leveen knocked this one out of the park, and I was happy to see each character coming out differently, whether they were the MC or one of the more minor parts of the cast, by the end of the book.
Overall? Definitely a must read, and possibly one of my favorite contemporaries of 2012 so far because it’s so different. It’s a badly needed breath of fresh air in the YA contemporary arena. “Zero” is out from Random House Children’s on April 24th, 2012 in North America. If you’re tired of the usual YA contemporary set up, you simply must check out “Zero”!