Paperback, 288 pages
Published January 28th 2014 by Razorbill Canada
Source: Publisher in exchange for an honest review
Blues for Zoey, is, if I am not mistaken, Robert Paul Weston’s first foray into the YA genre after writing successful and award winning books such as Zorgamazoo for middle graders. I have read his middle grade offerings and found them compelling and complex, being able to offer as much to an adult reader as they would to a middle grader. This then was my reasoning for accepting the review copy.
Blues for Zoey is about Kaz who works in a Laundromat in order to save money so his mother who suffers from a rare disease that makes her fall asleep for hours (even days) at a time, can go to a hospital and be cured. After his father died, the family’s economic circumstances changed and they moved from the plush side of town to a not-so-plus side. His eight year old sister is precocious and already using words like “stress” in her daily vocabulary. His girlfriend dumped him after an unfortunate experience in bed and well, his life is not fun. Then Zoey walks past the Laundromat he works at (and lives over) and his life…I wouldn’t say it changes, I’d say that things become more interesting for him than they were. Perhaps.
I liked the diversity of the characters present in the novel. Kaz is half-Japanese and half-Black, his mom being Japanese and his dad being Black. His book is Portuguese and his across the street neighbor is Algerian. I like that but what I couldn’t understand is why their differences were not used to spice up the narrative, give Kaz a more unique perspective as someone who is struggling with his identity would view the world in much more interesting ways. There are no signs of either of his heritage in his daily life, no mention of food that his mother would like or stuff his father did that paints him as being from a different place. See, I am of the camp who thinks that this whole “colour doesn’t matter, we are all the same” is disrespectful. I love that I am a person of colour and I want my differences celebrated. That’s why I was puzzled when even though the potential was rich, the novel doesn’t utilize it.
Another thing that got me riled up was how Kaz and the other boys in the novel treated this girl they apparently have all been crushing on for ages. They completely objectify her and treat her as this stall which is sometimes occupied (when she has a boyfriend) and empty (when she doesn’t) and the queue in the front is long as other boys wait for their chance. This character is not given depth or a substantial personality; she is used to soothe Kaz’s ego, get him into trouble etc. She is never seen as a person with her own thoughts, dreams, etc. She stops at her physical looks and that was not happy-making.
As for Zoey, honestly, I do not have anything much to say about her. She is the manic pixie dream girl who teaches Kaz about life and then disappears. The way she teaches him is very interesting and unexpected so kudos to that but as a character, she didn’t do anything much for me. My favourite character in the novel is the little sister and she gets far too little page time.
So yes, the book did disappoint me as I was expecting something a lot more complex and layered considering Weston’s previous novels. However, my opinion is just one many so check out Lindsay’s review before making your decision.