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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
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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