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Dear Zoe,Review - Dear Zoe,
A Novel
by Philip Beard
Highbridge Audio, 2005
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Sep 11th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 36)

In this short novel (under 5 hours in unabridged audiobook), fifteen-year-old Tess addresses her dead half-sister Zoe.† Little Zoe was killed in a car accident on September 11, 2001.† Tess writes of how difficult it is for her family to mourn , especially since their less was not part of the nation's loss on that terrible day.† Tess explains that she found it so difficult living at home with her mother and step-father that she went to live with her real father for a while.† Since her father is a loser who breeds dogs, can never keep a regular job, and drives a series of embarrassing clapped-out old cars and vans, things must be pretty bad for Tess to prefer to live with him rather then her mother.† Tess meets a boy, who lives next door to her father, and they get serious.† Eventually she returns home to her mother, step-father and her middle sister Em.† As the book starts, Tess is waiting for the first anniversary of Zoe's death, and she is nervous about how it will go.

Tess talks about some adult things: trying drugs, her period, sexual exploration, losing her virginity, and infidelity.† Yet she also seems quite young, and this is compounded by Cassandra Morris' childlike reading, where she seems even younger than 15.† The book is about the same length as most aimed at young adults, and is much shorter than most novels for adults.†† So it is not quite clear who the intended readership for the book is, and I would not really recommend it to adults.† There's a studied sense of supposed spontaneity to the writing, with rather simplistic statements that sound like teenage profundities.† It's entertaining, but the serious subject matter isn't matched by the prose.† The emotional climax of the book, near the end, where Tess comes to feel her loss powerfully, is especially uncomfortable for the reader.† The coincidence of important events in Tess' life, that leads her to a moment of crisis, feels contrived.† The link to September 11 is equally awkward, and Beard does not explore Tess' feelings about the larger national loss at all.† His creation of this coincidence of dates feels like it exploits other people's loss without honoring it sufficiently.

On the positive side, Beard's portrayal of a family suffering grief is powerful, especially in some of the small details.† It is easy to see why Tess finds it so painful to stay at home, which serves as a constant reminder of her loss.† Her mother and stepfather also don't know how to find solace in each other, and so each person in the house becomes more isolated, including the sad little girl Em.† Yet they work through their pain and the book ends with hope that the family will remain intact.† Dear Zoe is an unusual book with it's combination of family devastation and a girl starting her first serious relationship with a boy, narrated in the form of a letter to her dead sister.† While flawed, it has some strong scenes, and readers looking for insights into families in grief may find some insights here.

 

© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

 

Link: Highbridge Audio

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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