Dear Zoe

Dear Zoe

4.7 22
by Philip Beard

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Philip Beard’s stunning debut novel is fifteen-year-old Tess DeNunzio’s letter to her sister, Zoe, lost to a hit-and-run driver on a day when it seemed that nothing mattered but the tragedies playing out in New York and Washington. Dear Zoe is a remarkable study of grief, adolescence, and healing with a pitch-perfect narrator who is at

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Philip Beard’s stunning debut novel is fifteen-year-old Tess DeNunzio’s letter to her sister, Zoe, lost to a hit-and-run driver on a day when it seemed that nothing mattered but the tragedies playing out in New York and Washington. Dear Zoe is a remarkable study of grief, adolescence, and healing with a pitch-perfect narrator who is at once sharp and naïve, world- worried and self-centered, funny and heartbreakingly honest. Tess begins her letter to Zoe as a means of figuring out her own life, her place in the world, but the result is a novel of rare power and grace that tells us much about ours. BACKCOVER: “Like The Lovely Bones, [Dear Zoe] is a piercing look at how family recovers from a devastating loss. Everything about this moving, powerful debut rings true.”
Booklist (starred review) 

“Beard peels away the layers of his protagonist’s anguish simply and sensitively. . . and creates real, multidimensional and affecting characters.”
The Washington Post 

“The whole novel . . . rings with truth.”
The Buffalo News

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A 15-year-old girl struggles to cope with private grief in an age of public catastrophe in this awkwardly conceived but sweet, sure-voiced debut. When her little sister, Zoe, dies after being struck by a car on September 11, 2001, savvy, self-aware Tess DeNunzio works through her grief by writing letters to Zoe. Tess's candid observations about her feelings of guilt (she witnessed the accident) and her mourning process give warmth and clarity to her descriptions of daily life in the aftermath. Not sure how to deal with her bereaved mother and uncommunicative stepfather, Tess moves across Pittsburgh to live with her real dad, an underemployed weight lifter with a good heart. Tess's wise-beyond-her-years sensibility can seem contrived ("That's one of the strangest parts of being a stepchild. You actually get to watch your parents fall in love"), and a morality lesson about the virtues of virginity feels tacked on. Most problematically, however, September 11 feels like a giant peg on which a small (but lovely) coat has been hung. Maybe that's the point, but much more moving are Tess's attempts to cope with the conventional aspects of the loss of her sister. (On sale Mar. 28) Forecast: Dear Zoe was about to be self-published when Viking snatched it up. Proper promotion could net the novel some cross-over YA sales. Six-city author tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
The narrator of this epistolary novel, 15-year-old Tess DeNunzio, recounts her life story to her little sister Zoe, who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver on the same day as the World Trade Center disaster. Although the September 11 tie-in seems somewhat contrived and only marginally relevant to the story, Beard does a commendable job of entering the mind of a teenage girl as she negotiates a rocky relationship with her real father and tries to adjust to a changed life with her grieving mother, her stepdad and younger sister Em. Suspense builds to a revelation of events the day Zoe died and why Tess feels responsible for what happened. When next-door neighbor Jimmy Freeze shares some of the weed Tess's dad has sold him, their subsequent lovemaking opens Tess to all the pain she's been repressing: "...the sound of the gurney carrying you over the threshold of the emergency room, your little body jumping as if shocked, bump-bump, and Jimmy suddenly felt red-hot inside me, burning away everything...." Teen girls will be drawn to the authentic voice of a girl in pain, seeking to heal herself following a devastating loss. KLIATT Codes: S--Recommended for senior high school students. 2005, Penguin, Plume, 196p., $13.00.. Ages 15 to 18.
—Jessica Swaim
Children's Literature - Whitney Hartsoe
When Tess DeMunzio's three-year-old sister is killed in a hit-and-run accident the same day as a national calamity—September 11, 2001—Tess begins to chronicle her journey of healing and self-discovery in a series of letters she writes to her sister. Through her honest observations of guilt and sadness, she begins to reveal life in the aftermath of a family torn and separated by a tragedy. As the anniversary of September 11 approaches, Tess resents those who died on that day, a day that should have been her sister's alone. In her whirlwind discovery of adolescence, she encounters sex, love, drugs and the unavoidable interruption of grief and guilt. Tess's candid vulnerability and innocence as well as her wit and honesty draw the reader in partly because Beard so effectively captures the voice of a young adolescent girl and the walls that surround her. Through the novel's unique voice and universal message of a journey to self-discovery and healing, Beard illustrates a force stronger than all the combined forces of adolescence: learning to love and be loved in return. Tess's young romance allows her to open her heart, but the grace of those closest to her confirms the healing power of love.
Library Journal
Beard came close to self-publishing this debut, written as a series of letters by teenaged Tess to her dead sister. With a six-city tour. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-When 15-year-old Tess DeNunzio loses her stepsister in a freak hit-and-run accident on September 11, 2001, she chronicles her family's recovery in an epistolary novel that is a tribute to the power of love to heal. First-time novelist Beard has created a unique and authentic voice in Tess, who struggles with her own ambivalent feelings of guilt. As the first-year anniversary of the Twin Towers collapse and Zoe's death approaches, the teen dreads the day. "The world will stop. People will cry-I don't care about all those others, because I even resent them for dying on the day that should have been yours alone." This honesty, tempered with wit, keeps her afloat as she navigates her adolescence during this rocky period in her family's life. As her tenuous relationship with her stepfather worsens and her mother's silence permeates the house, Tess escapes to her n'er-do-well father's home. She meets Jimmy Freeze, with whom she shares sex and a little weed, which it turns out her father and Jimmy sell. But, more importantly, she learns what it is to love and be loved. Dear Zoe is not a dark novel. Young adults will identify with Tess's resilience and find the far-from-perfect adults who populate her world familiar. When Tess returns to her blended family, readers understand her well-intentioned father's pain. It is a moment that will resonate for many as Tess realizes that what is right for her will hurt the imperfect parent she loves.-Pat Bangs, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In an epistolary first novel about the process of grieving, a 15-year-old girl writes letters to the younger sister whose death she feels responsible for. First-timer Beard hangs his story on the coincidence that Tess's three-year-old half-sister Zoe was killed in a car accident in the Pittsburgh area just as thousands were dying on September 11, 2001. Tess, who describes herself as a mediocre student who wears lots of makeup, had been watching Zoe but left her alone in the front yard for a few minutes to watch the news on television. Now she is racked with guilt. Although readers may consider Tess's relationship with her parents more loving and healthy than most, she feels increasingly disconnected from her beautiful, grief-stricken mother and educated, hard-working stepfather, David. She resents being excluded from their anguish and is particularly uncomfortable around David despite his obvious caring sensitivity. She claims she feels a stronger connection to her birth father, with whom she has never lived and whom she knows is a loser drifting from job to job. She draws closer to her other half-sister, Emily, a precocious first-grader who depends on her support; but after Tess discovers that her mother has been flirting with another man to relieve her own sorrow, Tess leaves her middle-class home to stay with her birth father in his run-down neighborhood. There, she becomes involved with Jimmy, the pot-smoking "bad boy" next door, and realizes her father is a small-time dealer. Though undisciplined and shady, Jimmy and her father are nothing if not protective and sensitive where she's concerned. Smoking dope and carrying on with Jimmy, she begins to enjoy herself, until a series ofevents on the eve of her 16th birthday causes her repressed grief to bubble over. Earnest and sensitive-to a fault. Author tour

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Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.75(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.75(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Philip Beard is a recovering attorney who still practices law part time in Pittsburgh, where he lives with his wife and three daughters. His first novel, Dear Zoe, was a Book Sense Pick, a Borders Original Voices Selection, and was chosen as one of the ten best first novels of 2005.

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