Friday, November 06, 2020

Middle Grade Murder Mystery Upbeat and Hopeful


(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Like always, Zoe Washington has baking on the brain.  If she can convince her mom and stepdad to let her audition for Kids Bake Challenge, she knows she can sweep the competition with her mad skills.  She could even end up as a star pastry chef with her own television show!  Zoe just has to prove herself so her parents will take her seriously as a budding baker.

When Zoe gets a letter from her biological father on her 12th birthday, it throws her for a confusing loop.  Convicted of murder, Marcus Johnson has been in prison since Zoe was a baby.  She hasn't heard a word from him in all that time and Zoe's mother has forbidden her from contacting him.  Torn between obeying her mom and finally getting a chance to know her mysterious father, Zoe begins to correspond with him in secret.  As he tells her about himself, encourages her baking, and shares his favorite songs, she begins to see him as not just a criminal but also as an intriguing person who doesn't seem nearly as bad as her mom makes him out to be.  When Marcus insists he's innocent, Zoe believes him.  As she sets out to clear his name, she learns some disturbing truths about a criminal justice system that unfairly targets Black men.  Did Marcus really kill someone?  Or is he the victim of systemic racism?  If Zoe can prove Marcus' innocence and free him from prison, can he finally be a real part of her life?  Suddenly, she wants that even more than a spot on Kids Bake Challenge.  As her secret investigation starts taking over Zoe's life, she has to decide what she really wants and how far she's willing to go to get it.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington, a middle-grade novel by debut author Janae Marks, is a quick but impactful read.  With themes of racism and wrongful conviction, it's a timely read that's as thought-provoking as it is engaging.  Although the book deals with heavy subjects, overall it tells an upbeat, hopeful story.  Zoe is an easy-to-root-for heroine who's full of spunk and determination.  As her eyes are opened to hard truths, she learns some important lessons about family, friendship, forgiveness, and fighting for what matters.  Even if Zoe's particular situation is foreign to some readers, the lessons she learns will resonate.  They certainly did for me.  For all these reasons, I very much enjoyed From the Desk of Zoe Washington and will keep an eye out to see what the talented Marks does next.

(Readalikes:  Um, nothing's really coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for difficult subject matter and references to murder

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

4 comments:

  1. It's funny, the cover of the book doesn't suggest the seriousness of the content. This sounds like a really good read.

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  2. I got a little emotional reading about Zoe's dad. Sounds like the complicated relationship was explored well.

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  3. You are finding some great MG and YA books lately Susan. This sounds like another good one.

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  4. I read this wonderful MG book earlier on this year and formed a lot of the same thoughts you've shared here.

    Interestingly though, here in the UK it is titled: The Faraway Truth. I much prefer the US title.

    Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete

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