Note: This review appeared in my monthly newsletter (April 2005). Apologies to those who have already read it.
Dear Zoe, by Philip Beard
Young Adult/Contemporary Fiction
Rating: A (5/5 Excellent!)
Top Ten List for 2005
It's been completely unintentional that I've picked up so many books dealing with grief in the past few months. I'm especially amazed that Dear Zoe, is so similiar to The Usual Rules which I read last month. Obviously there are differences, but both deal with tragedies that occur on September 11th and involve the loss of a family member (one directly with the World Trade Center attack and the other simply a coincidence of the date). Both are Young Adult fiction in which the main characters are young girls who eventually go to live with their fathers at some point, leaving behind a younger sibling. I was very impressed by Philip Beard's ability to capture a young teenage girl's voice with such credibility.
Readers of The Usual Rules won't be disappointed. Dear Zoe, is a marvelous coming-of-age story that just happens to deal with a family death as well. In some ways I think I liked it more than Maynard's. Perhaps because it wasn't so wrought with overwhelmingly realistic memories of that horrible day in our history. While I was moved to tears, it wasn't until much further on in the book. The Usual Rules broke my heart page after page from the get-go.
Hours away from pushing the button on a self-publishing deal, lawyer-turned-novelist Philip Beard was won over by the combined efforts of a bookseller, a sales rep, a publisher, and an agent, and brought the book to Viking. With its extraordinary backstory already covered in Publishers Weekly’s "Hot Deals" column, Dear Zoe has got built-in buzz that’s just going to keep growing. Beard’s stunning debut is an epistolary novel written from fifteen-year-old Tess DeNunzio to her little sister Zoe. After Zoe’s accidental death on September 11, 2001—a day so many others died—Tess’s family is numbed by their personal tragedy. Already acutely aware of her odd place in a home where her mother and stepfather now have children of their own, Tess begins her letter as a means of figuring out her own life—from her two-hour-a-day hair and makeup ritual to her complicity in Zoe’s death. Only after she moves in with her real father, a well-intentioned deadbeat, and stumbles into a halting romance with the sweet but aimless boy next door, does Tess begin to open her heart once more. Not since The Lovely Bones has there been a study of grief, adolescence, and healing that rings as true as Dear Zoe. In Tess, a girl on the verge of womanhood, Beard has crafted a pitch-perfect narrator and a debut novel of rare power and grace that will remain with readers long after the book is put down.
Bookreporter.com - Author Profile and interview