|TITLE: Holding On to Zoe AUTHOR: George Ella Lyon |
PUB DATE: 7/17/12 PUB: Macmillan
FORMAT: eARC SOURCE: Netgalley
After sixteen-year-old Jules has her baby, Zoe, it doesn’t matter anymore that her mother thinks she’s a drama queen, or that her father left them years ago, or even that Zoe’s father is gone, too. She and her baby make a family now; she doesn’t need anyone else in the world except Zoe. Though it's tough being a new mom, balancing Zoe’s needs with working at the Toyota factory and thinking about how to finish school, Jules is sure she’ll figure it out. Still, she wonders, why can’t anyone be happy for her and Zoe? And why does her mom refuse to believe that Zoe's real?
THREE WORDS: Intriguing but Fragmented
MY REVIEW: Holding On to Zoe by George Ella Lyon has a really intriguing premise, which is, of course, what drew me to the book. I went into the book expecting a powerful, raw glimpse into the life of a troubled teenage mother, but what I got was something disappointing.
At sixteen years old, Jules finds herself pregnant. Even when the baby’s father takes off and her mother refuses to accept what’s happening, Jules wants her baby more than anything else. But being a single, teenage mother is hard and she must balance taking care of baby Zoe with working at the Toyota factory. And Jules’ mother and best friend don’t make anything any easier and even refuse to believe that Zoe is real. As Jules struggles as a mom, she also struggles to distinguish between reality and fantasy and must find the strength to deal with a long buried secret.
This is a hard review to write because I walked away from Holding On to Zoe so conflicted. I wanted to like this book because it has so much potential and almost does so much right, but in the end I found it to be uninspiring and disjointed.
The book begins with such a potentially profound premise, but lacks captivating execution and storytelling. The story is told from Jules’s perspective and as the story unfolds you realize that she is not a reliable narrator, which makes the story confusing and fragmented. There’s also a really unbalanced flow and, at times, the tense switches in a jarring way. These things were so distracting that I had a hard time staying “in” the story.
Based on the synopsis, especially the part that says “And why does her mom refuse to believe that Zoe's real?”, readers can easily assume that not all is as it seems with Jules and her baby Zoe and the “twist” of Zoe not really existing is introduced early on in the story. So, with this twist the story goes from being about a troubled teenage mother to being about a troubled teenager suffering from mental illness. Like I said above, this storyline has the potential to be powerful and thought-provoking, but falls very short. There’s no real exploration of Jules’ psychotic break and her “breakthrough” feels contrived and anticlimactic. Everything for a great story is present in the basic premise, but the execution and storytelling prove to be lackluster.
The characters are not really likable or relatable and feel one-dimensional. I had a hard time connecting with Jules and even though I was sympathetic to her situation, I never felt invested in her story. Jules’s mother is downright horrible! She’s bitter, judgmental and selfish; there’s nothing redeemable about her at all. This is a short book, at under 200 pages, but I honestly don’t think I could have handled reading about these characters if the book was any longer.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS: Holding On to Zoe was a disappointing and dull read, mostly because it has so much potential and little follow through. The emotional and profound elements just aren’t there, making this a less than enjoyable read.
George Ella Lyon has published award-winning books for readers of all
ages, and her poem, “Where I’m From,” has been used as a model by teachers
around the world. Recent titles include She Let Herself Go (poems) and the
following picture books: “Which Side Are You On?” The Story of a Song, and All
the Water in the World (both CCBC Choices), The Pirate of Kindergarten
(Schneider Award) and You and Me and Home Sweet Home (Jane Addams
Honor). Originally from the mountains of Kentucky, Lyon works as a freelance
writer and teacher based in Lexington, where she lives with her husband,
writer and musician Steve Lyon. They have two grown sons.