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Dear Zoe

Review

Dear Zoe

For
Tess DeNunzio, the world changed on September 11, 2001. As the
country watched the events of that day unfold, Tess also witnessed
a tragic scene. She saw her little sister, Zoe, who she was
supposed to be minding, struck and killed by a car outside their
suburban Pittsburgh home.

DEAR ZOE is written as a letter from fifteen-year-old Tess to the
sister she has lost. The epistolary form allows Tess to tell her
story with the convincing candor of someone who believes their
words will never be read by anyone else. In this debut novel,
lawyer-turned-novelist Philip Beard does an admirable job of not
only conveying the voice of a teenage girl but also exquisitely
portraying a family quietly grieving for a lost child.

Beard doesn't exploit the events of September 11th. He uses that
day as a mirror to reflect the simple truth that every death has an
impact on the people left behind. As Tess writes to Zoe, "You died
in this tiny, silent part of that day…. The hardest part is
going to be the day itself, the anniversary. The world will stop.
People will cry. They will relive the pictures and the familiar
video of what to them felt like the end of the world. But it will
be just like before. You won't be any part of what they're thinking
about. You'll just be the silence itself. Every living person, even
ones who lost no one, will be thinking of all those people who fell
out of the sky and no one except Mom and David and Em and me will
be thinking of you."

Tess finds no solace in a house with people as grief-stricken as
she is and moves in with her real father, an aimless but
well-intentioned man. Here she can just be Tess --- not the
stepdaughter who doesn't follow the rules, the daughter who can't
comprehend the way her mother has chosen to drown her sorrow, or
the fractured role model to her half-sister, Emily.

Across town and a world away, Tess finds comfort in her renewed
relationship with her father, the puppy who adopts her, a job at a
theme park, experimenting with marijuana, and a romance with the
troubled but sweet boy next door. As the summer unfolds and leads
up to the one-year anniversary of Zoe's death, Tess slowly comes to
terms with her feelings of grief and guilt.

DEAR ZOE is likely to earn comparisons to THE LOVELY BONES for its
depiction of a family coping with the sudden and violent death of a
child. But it also brings to mind another bestseller, THE SECRET
LIFE OF BEES, which shares a similar narrative voice and a main
character trying to cope with her complicity in the death of a
loved one.

Whatever comparisons are drawn, there is no doubt that this book is
a gem all its own. With DEAR ZOE, Philip Beard has accomplished
quite a feat. He makes us believe that only Tess could tell this
story.

Reviewed by Shannon McKenna on January 20, 2011

Dear Zoe
by Philip Beard

  • Publication Date: April 25, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Plume
  • ISBN-10: 0452287405
  • ISBN-13: 9780452287402