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Solving Zoe (Mix Series)

Solving Zoe (Mix Series)

4.3 13
by Barbara Dee

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Zoe Bennett feels lost at her fancy private school.

She's not the star drama queen like her sister, or a brainiac math genius like her brother. Luckily her best friend, Dara, is just as content as Zoe is to stay in the shadows -- or is she? When Dara gets a part in the school musical, Zoe feels abandoned. What's worse, Zoe's


Zoe Bennett feels lost at her fancy private school.

She's not the star drama queen like her sister, or a brainiac math genius like her brother. Luckily her best friend, Dara, is just as content as Zoe is to stay in the shadows -- or is she? When Dara gets a part in the school musical, Zoe feels abandoned. What's worse, Zoe's practically being stalked by the weird new kid, Lucas. Then Lucas accidentally drops his notebook and Zoe finds it's written in symbols and numbers -- it's complete gibberish. Yet she sees her name in there, plain as day. Now Lucas is telling her she's a natural code-reading genius -- or some kind of mental freak.

As Zoe's daydreaming lands her in trouble at school, anonymous notes start to appear in students' lockers, and Zoe is the number one suspect. Solving word puzzles may come easily to her, but now there's more at stake -- will Zoe be able to solve her way out of this?

With plenty of wit and insight, Barbara Dee has created this fresh, funny story of a girl who discovers that fitting in sometimes means standing out.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Heidi Hauser Green
Zoe Bennett is following in her siblings' footprints by attending the fancy private school for gifted children. There is only one problem: While they have proven themselves to be gifted in theater and math, Zoe has just been treading water. Flying under the radar. Trying to get by. And that is not good enough at this prestigious school. Things get worse when Zoe begins to sense that she is being followed by the strange new kid, Lucas. His attention makes her feel keenly uncomfortable, and that feeling is heightened when Lucas drops his notebook and she sees it is full of gibberish. Zoe's trouble at school grows when strange notes begin appearing in her classmates' lockers. Zoe seems to be discovering her talent—cracking puzzles and codes—but will that be enough for her to figure out what's going on at school and save her school career? Barbara Dee's Zoe is a likeable protagonist, and the plot is unique. Any youth who has ever wondered where he/she fits in his school or where her life is going will be drawn into Zoe's story—and who among us has not? Reviewer: Heidi Hauser Green
School Library Journal

Gr 5-8

Zoe Bennett feels out of place at her progressive school. Her older siblings-one a talented actress and the other a math genius-deserve to be there, but Zoe isn't so sure that she does. And while it may be something that she's thought to herself, she isn't prepared to hear the head of her division suggest that she should "consider other options." On top of her school trouble, Zoe's best friend, Dara, seems to be pulling away, hanging with more popular girls, and the strange new student, Lucas, is convinced that Zoe has a gift for reading codes and ciphers. When encrypted notes begin appearing in the lockers of some of the popular girls, she is a suspect and all of her problems come to a head. Zoe's reactions are believable, and readers will follow along as she gains confidence and tries to figure out what she wants and where her passion lies. Keys for the ciphers in the book are appended, as is a short bibliography.-Amanda Raklovits, Champaign Public Library, IL

Kirkus Reviews
Eleven-year-old Zoe is the black sheep of her eccentric, intelligent family. Her older brother is a math genius, her older sister is a talented performer, but Zoe is just plain Zoe. The tipping point comes when her best friend discovers her own talent as a performer and ditches Zoe for the popular theater crowd at their intense Brooklyn private school. Feeling alone, Zoe starts to slip in her classes, and her creepy principal puts her on probation. While all this is happening, an odd new student-a supposed code-reading genius-starts paying attention to her. At first she resists the friendship, but eventually finds that she and Lucas have a lot more in common than she thought and discovers her own unique talent as a code-reader. It's hard to imagine that the sweet, somewhat spacey Zoe is truly a budding cryptanalyst, and in the same vein the predictable, perky prose doesn't quite measure up to the unique subject matter. Not seamless, but entertaining and educational. A key to the ciphers embedded in the story appears at the end, along with a list of sources. (Fiction. 8-12)
From the Publisher
"Solving Zoe is funny, fast-paced, smart, and totally absorbing, with a twist of intrigue that will keep you reading past bedtime. Barbara Dee's a terrific writer." -- Frances O'Roark Dowell

"...this vivid middle-school novel offers readers plenty to think about." -- Booklist

"Zoe's reactions are believable, and readers will follow along as she gains confidence and tries to figure out what she wants and where her passion lies." -- School Library Journal

Product Details

Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date:
Mix Series
Sold by:
Sales rank:
640L (what's this?)
File size:
548 KB
Age Range:
9 - 13 Years

Read an Excerpt



At first Zoe didn't notice that the boy at the end of the table was writing down every word she said.

She barely noticed him at all, the way his blond hair flopped into his face as he sat hunched over what looked like a small notebook. Probably he was just some applicant taking notes about the lunchroom: "Burgers at the Lorna Hubbard School extremely gross," or something brilliant like that.

And anyway, why would Zoe pay attention to some kid she didn't even know, when she was finally, after an endless morning, getting to see her best friend, Dara Grosbard? The only class they had together this year was gym, and that didn't even count, because you had to spend the whole time dodging basketballs or jogging breathlessly around the track. So the one place they could talk was the ear-splitting Hubbard lunchroom, where you really had to concentrate to have a meaningful conver-sation.

"God, Zoe, this is absolutely disgusting," Dara was saying as she chomped on a chili dog. "You sure you don't want a bite?"

"Positive," Zoe answered. She opened her bag of Lay's potato chips and dumped them onto her tray. Usually there were twelve chips per bag; if she did it just right, she could fit all twelve into her tuna fish sandwich. For crunch, she used to explain to horrified onlookers. Of course, by now everybody knew all about Zoe's sandwich weirdness and didn't even ask.

"So how was Chinese today?" Zoe said, poking in the last of her chips. "Did he make you talk?"

"He always makes us talk. I should have taken a normal language, like French."

"French? You think French is normal?"

"Okay, maybe not," Dara agreed. "But if I took French, at least we'd be together for one measly class besides gym. Sigh."

Zoe smiled. Dara was always saying things like "sigh" and "gasp," as if she were attaching smiley faces, or frownies, to all her sentences. But at least that way you knew what she was feeling, Zoe thought as she took a crunchy bite of sandwich, then a cooling sip of chocolate milk.

Suddenly she felt a light poke from behind.

"Are these seats taken?"

She turned her head. Surprisingly, it was Allegra Hillenbrand, who insisted on being called Leg, along with her bodyguard, Paloma Farrelly. They were both really good dancers, two of the best in Hubbard Middle Division.

"No, they're free," Dara was saying nicely. "If you can squeeze in."

Zoe gave Dara a look that meant, Do we have to? But either Dara didn't notice or else she didn't think she had a choice. She pushed aside her chili dog and slid over to make room, so that Leg and Paloma wouldn't have to sit too close to the unknown boy with the notebook.

Leg smiled at Dara. "So," she said. "Have you officially signed up yet?"

"Signed up for what?" Zoe asked. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the boy turn a page in his notebook and write something quickly.

"Nothing," Dara said. "It's stupid, Zoe."

"No, it's not. It's brilliant," Leg insisted.

Zoe glanced at Dara. "What is?"

"Nothing," Dara said again. Her gray-blue eyes narrowed in embarrassment. "Leg thinks I should try out for the musical."

"The musical?" Zoe said. "You want to?"

"I'm not sure." Dara nibbled on her thumbnail. "Maybe."

"Oh, you're totally sure, Dara," Leg said. "You said so right before Chinese." She flipped her shiny chestnut hair over one shoulder, her gold hoop earrings catching the light. "Besides, why go to an amazing school like Hubbard if you don't take advantage, blah blah blah. You should encourage her, Zoe."

"Do you want to?" Zoe repeated, trying to ignore Leg. "Because nobody should force you, Dara."

"Nobody is," said Paloma.

"Sigh," Dara said. "The thing is, Zoe, I think I might want to try out, but I'm terrified. You know what Izzy always says."

Zoe nodded. Zoe's sixteen-year-old sister, Isadora, was the star of almost every Hubbard production, but even she always complained about tryouts. She called them cutthroat, and how could they not be, really, with all the gifted and talented kids strutting around this "amazing" school? And the thing was, Dara was shy -- talented but shy. €ŠAnd also tiny: not the best combination, especially when you were expected to stand onstage and sing into a blaring microphone.

Poor Dara, Zoe thought. She doesn't know what she's in for.

Paloma laughed. "Well, look at it this way, Dara. You probably won't even get a part, so there's nothing to worry about, right?"

"You shouldn't say that," Zoe said, her dark eyes flashing. "Dara's actually an incredible singer. If she wants a part, she'll get one."

"Well, yeah, Zoe. Obviously."

"So if it's obvious, Paloma, you shouldn't tease her like that."

"It was just a joke," Dara said gently. "Never mind, Zoe."

Zoe realized then that all three girls were looking at her, and Paloma was smiling. She felt like a complete moron, all of a sudden.

"Okay, then," Leg said finally. "I guess our work here is done. See you later, Dara." Then she and Paloma walked away, taking dramatic turned-out steps, as if to remind everyone in the lunchroom that they were both really good dancers.

Zoe took a small bite of her tuna-and-potato-chip sandwich. "You want me to come with you to tryouts?" she asked.

"Oh, definitely not," Dara said. "You hate all that stuff, Zoe. It would make you crazy to sit there. Besides, we'd probably just look at each other and start laughing hysterically." She reached over and took a sip of Zoe's chocolate milk. "I'll just meet you afterward, okay? If you don't mind waiting a tiny bit."

"Of course I don't mind," Zoe said, surprised this was even a question. "Why would I?" Suddenly she remembered something. "I've got Isaac's after school today. I really can't be late."

"Oh, you won't be," Dara promised. "I'll be like ten or fifteen minutes."

Well, ten or fifteen minutes probably won't make much of a difference, Zoe thought. €ŠAnd even if Dara refused to come inside, they'd have the walk over together. €ŠAnd of course they'd have the walk back to Zoe's.

"Okay, great," she said cheerfully. "I'll meet you in the lobby."

And then a strange thing happened. The blond floppy-haired boy at the end of the table looked right into Zoe's eyes, the very second she finished speaking. Then he stuffed his notebook into his pocket and walked rapidly out of the cafeteria.

And Zoe couldn't say why, but she knew right then that he'd been eavesdropping on the entire conversation. €ŠAnd possibly worse than that: possibly writing it all down in that little spiral notebook, although of course at that point she didn't have any proof.

Copyright © 2009 by Barbara Dee

Meet the Author

Barbara Dee is the author of Star-Crossed, Truth or Dare, The (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys, Trauma Queen, This Is Me From Now On, Solving Zoe (Bank Street Best Children’s Books), and Just Another Day in My Insanely Real Life (Publishers Weekly, starred review). Barbara is one of the founders and directors of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. She lives in Westchester County, New York, with her family, two naughty cats, and a rescue hound dog named Ripley. Barbara blogs at FromtheMixedUpFiles.com. Read more about Barbara at BarbaraDeeBooks.com.

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Solving Zoe 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
MiddleschoolReader More than 1 year ago
Just like her first book, Barbra Dee has done an outstanding job. I couldn't put the book down. The reading level was perfect, not too hard, not too easy, and I really enjoyed figuring out the codes. The characters were absorbing and fun. I would totally recommend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love novels that have really compelling plots and characters and teach me something I didn't know as well. That must be why I loved Solving Zoe. I found myself caring about the characters, and I really wanted to know how the book would end. At the same time, I didn't know anything about codes before I started reading this book, and I enjoyed learning about a subject that was totally new to me. I thought this novel was really fresh and innovative, and I think you'd enjoy it too. I think this book might end up becoming a quirky modern classic, like Harriet The Spy, and I strongly recommend that you give it a try.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Zoe is eleven years old and has been going to the same school all of her life, Hubbard School.

This school isn't a regular school, but one for extraordinary students. Zoe's older sister and brother both go there, as well. Her sister is an amazing actress/singer and her brother is a math champion. Ever her little brother, Spencer, goes to pre-school there.

Zoe is having problems figuring out how she fits into the scheme of things at the school. Her grades are slipping and she and her best friend, Dara, are growing apart. Enter in a new student named Lucas. Lucas is weird, but he's also a code-reading genius. He takes a liking to Zoe and through some time spent together, Zoe finds out that she has a
code-reading gift, too.

I really loved this story about growing up and finding where you belong. I actually believe that we go through this process many times in our lives. Even when you get older you may find yourself at loose ends and have to find yourself all over again. I have been going through that process recently since I now have an empty nest.

Anyway, this story is great. The characters are very lovable and you wish they were your friends. Zoe's family is supportive and loving but can be annoying also, especially the two brothers. I found that to be very realistic.

If you want a good book that will both interest you and entertain you, then pick up SOLVING ZOE by Barbara Dee.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Solving Zoe" is a very well put together book. It is about a sixth-grade girl attending a school for gifted children, just like her siblings. But where her older sister Isadora and her younger brother Spencer are actors and her older brother Malcom is a math whiz, Zoe can't seem to find a talent. Her life is turned around when her best friend, Dara, begins hanging out with popular girls and a new boy named Lucas shows up and begins claiming she has code-reading potential. Now notes are appearing in the popular kis's lockers... and Zoe is their prime suspect.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
THE BEST BOOK EVER!!!!!!!!!!¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿!!!!!!!!!!¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿ a must read im hoping she will write a sequal
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Go privit skools
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lorraine Cipriano More than 1 year ago
great bookkkkk read it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Helen Owen More than 1 year ago
Go privet schools : p
Debbie Scott More than 1 year ago
Zoe is very creative in almost anything she does! From coming up with a new way to remember your colors in math class or trying to take care of and have fun with reptiles living in three bedroooms! Zoe Bennett is sure to delight you with a great tween read story! Another great one! Keep up the awesome work!!!:-$ P.s. this is a braces sign! Go metal mouths!!:-$ Hahahahahahaha!!!!