by Tom Leveen
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Zero by Tom Leveen

For aspiring artist Amanda Walsh, who only half-jokingly goes by the nickname Zero, the summer before college was supposed to be fun: hanging out with her best friend Jenn, going to clubs, painting, and counting down the days until her escape. But when must-have scholarship money doesn't materialize, she has to completely rethink her college plans. Plus, she has a majorly awkward falling out with Jenn and they're not speaking. On top of it all, Zero's parents relationship goes from tense to relentless fighting. Suddenly her prospects are looking as bleak and surreal as a painting by her idol Salvador Dali. 

But her new relationship with Mike, a skater boy who's also in a local punk band, gives her a glimmer of confidence (even if he does seem too good to be true). And when she gets support from the unlikeliest of sources,  Zero starts to wonder if she might be more than just a name.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375873379
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 04/23/2013
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

TOM LEVEEN has been involved in theater since 1988, directing over 30 plays. As the artistic director and a co-founder of an all-ages, nonprofit visual and performing venue in Scottsdale, Arizona, he frequently works with young adults at various events including theater, visual art exhibits, and especially the live music scene. Tom is an Arizona native, where he lives with his wife, Joy, and young son.

Read an Excerpt


One thing, at least, is certain: everything, absolutely everything, that I shall say here is entirely and exclusively my own fault. —Salvador Dali

Here’s the thing.

You know that whole deal about rainbows being a promise or something?

It’s not true.

It’s crap. If it was true, I wouldn’t be home sitting on the driveway in the rain, a massive sucking black hole of a failure. I’d be packing for Chicago.

The rainbow arching over Camelback Mountain is beautiful, though. It’s been raining all day—a rarity in Phoenix—and only now has the downpour stopped. Clouds roll by fast overhead, purple-gray animals growling and flashing teeth. But they haven’t moved far enough west to block the setting sun. Its fading rays create the aforementioned rainbow.

It’s the first time I’ve even hinted at smiling since graduation. A week ago tonight.

Many things suck about living here; the smell of desert rain is not one of them. So I left my room when I saw it wasn’t pouring, and still have a soft charcoal pastel stick in hand. I sketch the image on the driveway: a black-and-slate-colored rainbow over the smudged profile of Camelback, which does in fact look like a camel that’s lain down.

Or is it . . . laid? Ha! For a seventeen-year-old girl, I often feel like a thirteen-year-old boy. So come August, does that mean I’ll be eighteen or fourteen? Discuss.

The driveway is a perfect urban canvas for the rainbow and the mountain. A rogue raindrop splatters right in the middle of the camel’s hump (ha!), so I smudge it into the charcoal, and suddenly the mountain is in perspective. Not bad.

I wonder if Mr. Hilmer, my junior high art teacher, would approve. “You done good, Amanda,” he liked to say, even though ever since about seventh grade, I’ve been Zero to my friends. Which until last week numbered exactly one. I never talked Mr. Hilmer into using my nickname, but at least he didn’t call me Amy like some other people I could mention.

Dad’s truck rolls down the street and veers toward the driveway as rain starts to fall again, smearing my drawing, bleeding it off the concrete. Good. Sucked anyway.

I don’t move. Dad maneuvers around me to park in the carport.

“How’s it going, Z?” he calls as he locks up the truck.

I rub my fingers together, creating charcoal mud. “Moist,” I call.

“That’s kind of a gross word, you know!” Dad shouts, laughing, as I hear him walking into the carport. Our kitchen door opens before he even gets there, as Mom chooses this moment to make an appearance. Oh yeah, this’ll end well.

“Amy!” my mother calls, her harpy voice reverberating around the carport. “Come inside! It’s raining, for heaven’s sake!”

Amy. Like I’m in fifth grade or something. My teachers used to say it, too, before high school. All of them except Mr. Hilmer. He was nice enough to call me Amanda. God, what I’d give to talk to him right now.

Dad, as always, chooses my side. “Oh, hell, Miriam, a little rain won’t kill the kid.”

“Richard, I don’t want her to catch a cold. . . .”

“Colds are caused by viruses, not weather!” I call. Helpfully.


“Would you get off her back for two seconds?” Dad’s voice starts to muffle as it sounds like he muscles past Mom into the kitchen.

“Richard!” my mom yells, and the door slams shut. At the exact same moment, the charcoal stick snaps in my hand.

I fling the broken pieces into the street. My empty fingers immediately tie themselves into sailor knots in my lap. They tend to do this any time I’m feeling, shall we say, tense.

The rainbow over Camelback fades and dies. I blame my mom. Dad hasn’t made it any farther than the kitchen; I can hear them screaming even from out here.

“It’s not fair,” I mutter to Camelback. Instead of starting freshman year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago like I wanted—like I’d dreamed about since Mr. Hilmer’s classes—I’m going to this dumbass community college in September to crank out my dumbass core classes before transferring to a dumbass in-state university.

Maybe by the time I get to a university, I’ll be able to at least move out of the house. But the way things have started this summer, I shouldn’t get my hopes up. Moving in with my super-awesome former best friend is out of the question, so maybe I’ll end up living with my parents the rest of my life. Sweet.

“But I got in,” I whisper toward Camelback, hoping the mountain will offer some kind of comfort. “I got accepted, and it doesn’t even count?”

Camelback heaves a sigh and a shrug.

I head into the house, rain plastering my colorless bangs against my (bulbous, fleshy) cheeks. My parents’ voices carry from the living room, where Mom is having an epic meltdown.

I head to my room and shut the door. Their acidic voices burn right through the walls, as usual.

That does it; I’m out of here.

Dad’ll leave soon enough. It’s Friday, which means it’s time to pony up to Scotty’s Bar & Grill; underline Bar. But I’m not going to wait till then. And I’m staying out until it’s late enough that Mom’s gone to bed and Dad’s either still tossing back a few at Scotty’s or at home passed out on the couch.

I pass my easel—a drafting table cranked to a severe angle—where I’ve been working on a charcoal trompe l’oeil (French: fools the eye. Class dismissed! Thanks, Mr. Hilmer!). It’s a drawing of a candle burning inside an inflated balloon. The candle leaps off the page in pseudo three dimensions, like its gray flame could light a cigarette. Very ironic, very surreal.

Very lame.

The balloon is a flat circle. My shading is all wrong. It isn’t very good. Neither are the three dozen heavy impasto oil or acrylic canvases stuffed in my closet. Neither are the faces I’ve drawn on my ceiling over the past four years or so. Which reminds me, I need to paint over the geometric portrait of Jenn I did last year. I don’t need her staring down at me every night. It’s not like it’s photorealistic, but I know it’s her, and that’s reason enough.

I haven’t talked to Jenn since graduation. Up until that whole mess went down, me and Ex-Best-Friend Jenn had planned to bum around all summer; be all, like, young and irresponsible. I’d sketch and she’d cook and life would be peachy until I left for one of the best art schools in the country, and instead—

I scowl up at the portrait, like it’s the painting’s fault I’m still in Phoenix. I’m terrified I might be what professional artists would call a hack, which is another word for no-talent lump of shit, but without the dramatic flair. Maybe I should cut off one ear and develop a solid narcotics habit?

I sign my usual initial Z at the bottom of the drawing, finishing it. My Salvador Dali clock says it’s almost eight; time to get a move on.

I pick up today’s copy of the Phoenix New Times from my desk and flip through the music section. I catch a break at last: Nightrage has a show tonight at The Graveyard. That’ll work. Nightrage isn’t going to be playing in town for much longer, from what I’ve heard. Allegedly, they’re going on a national tour with another formerly local band, Black Phantom, who signed with an indie label in L.A. last year and are starting to get some radio play on the West Coast. Local Boys Make Good.

New Times says a band called Gothic Rainbow is opening for Nightrage. Haven’t heard of them, but the name reminds me of my ill-fated driveway drawing, chalky black and gray. I imagine a large painting . . . maybe from a perspective behind me, where you could see both me drawing on the pavement and the rainbow over Camelback itself—?

Anyway. Gothic Rainbow. What are they, gay vampires? I reach for my phone to call Jenn and ask if she’s heard of the band. Fortunately, I’m able to jerk my hand back before I even pick it up.

Man, that was close.

I root through my dresser for something appropriate to wear. Bad idea, because I can’t help but catch my reflection in the glass of one of my four framed Salvador Dali prints. I refuse to have a mirror in my room, because honestly, I don’t much care what I look like. Except when I, you know, see myself.

“And we ratchet up the revulsion,” I mumble to my reflection in the Metamorphosis of Narcissus poster, while poking helplessly at the ring of chub above my waistband. Must cut back on eating, you know, deep-fried butter or whatever. Stays crunchy in milk!

I grab my favorite jeans and pull them on quickly to hide the white-hot shame of my reflection. They’re a bit baggy—one of their chief attractions—so I cinch them with this belt I painted on back in eighth grade in Mr. Hilmer’s class. What was once empty green leather is now adorned with fading ants, melting watches, and other surrealistic icons associated with the best fucking artist in the galaxy.

Here’s the thing.

I wouldn’t call it a Dali phase. It’s more of a “Dali fervent devotion with psychotic tendencies.” Salvador Dali is my hero. I’ve got the four prints of his on my walls, plus the clock, which depicts Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in Their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra, and a handful of T-shirts with his work on them. I painted these Dali trademark replicas on the belt myself, though. I’m pretty proud of the work, and so was Mr. Hilmer at the time. He called it one of my best expressions. Wearing it reminds me of Mr. Hilmer, who retired after I graduated. He said he waited an extra year just so he could have me in his class one more time in eighth grade. I don’t know about that, but it was nice to hear.

Someday, I remind myself as I rummage for a T-shirt, I’m going to St. Petersburg, Florida, to visit (or move into) the Salvador Dali museum. See his work up close and personal, study the brushstrokes, and probably have a cataclysmic orgasm just standing there. But Florida’s a long ways away, and I can’t quite muster the guts to borrow/steal money from the account Dad set up to pay for school, which is “hands-off for anything except educational expenses!” A trip to the Dali museum would be educational, in my humble opinion, but I don’t think SAIC would hand me credit for it, so no can do.

Then again, SAIC is no longer an option anyway. Goddammit, this is not fair. From May 1, when I got my acceptance letter, to May 28, life was so sweet I didn’t even hear Mom and Dad’s usual melee. Then last week—hours before graduation, for god’s sake—I got the other letter from Chicago, the one starting “Dear Ms. Walsh, With regret, your scholarship application has been . . .”

And that was just the start of the worst night/week/summer of my life.

Whatever. I grab a black shirt from my dresser: D.I., that sweet, old Orange County band that never quite made it mainstream. Nobody ever knows who D.I. is. You can tell the idiots from the cool people by who asks, “What’s a D-X-I-X?” The Xs are periods, dumbass.

I glance at my hair in the glass pane of one poster. It’s still wet from the rain and starting to frizz out, so I yank on my old blue canvas cabbie cap to cover it.

“You pretty much suck,” I remind my reflection, and pull the brim of the cap down to shade my eyes. At least my hat looks cool. I shove my wallet into my hip pocket, grab my keys, and go out to begin a night of blessed punk oblivion.

My mother has other ideas.

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Zero 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
RaeLynn_Fry More than 1 year ago
Here’s the thing: I REALLY pretty much loved this book. Discuss. Tom Leveen does an epic job of writing this story from a seventeen-year-old girl’s perspective (which is actually somewhat unsettling), creating a believable and genuine voice for Zero and a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s so good in fact, that it took me a little while to get into it. I know, that sounds a bit conflicting, but I don’t know how else to describe it, other than, after a few chapters, I was hooked and couldn’t put the book down. The voice is so fluid and natural throughout the entire story. The Conflict artfully constructed, and all the relationship dynamics unfold so naturally and they have such an organic flow from one to the other, it’s like I’m living through high school all over again. And the fact that it’s a male author writing from a female’s perspective so dang well is impressive. There’s also some really fantastic dialogue. This book is first and foremost about relationships. And how dysfunctional and broken and confusing and wonderful they can be. Tom writes these relationships so realistically; I experienced them right alongside Zero. The betrayal and confusion from a best friend. A first love. The cloudiness about your future and how you thought it was going to unfold. These are all powerful and well executed. When I was shown the relationship between Zero’s parents, my heart broke and I was sick to my stomach. The source of the fallout between Zero and her best friend, Jenn, (which the MC tells you about in the beginning so I’m not spoiling anything here) was so completely out of left field, I just kinda sat on the couch saying, “Wow.” Leveen has the typical teenage angst (I hate using that word) and attitude down pat. Everything Zero says and does and how she reacts towards her parents is spot on. I kept nodding and laughing as I was reading, recognizing myself in some of those scenes (sorry mom for being the typical teenager and all that grey hair I’m now convinced is my fault). And the author’s funny. Zero’s inner dialogue had me laughing out loud. The cynicism and sarcasm and humor is well-placed and well done. The plot is engaging and fast moving (only a few days to read the book), and so REALISTIC (I can’t say that enough about this novel) I really did find myself sucked in, wanting to know how Zero’s story would turn out. There was only one thing I didn’t care for: a scene between two characters that took place the parking lot of a coffee shop (you can pretty much guess where I’m going with this). That's the only bad thing I have to say about this book: The open door sex scene. Read more at RaeLynnFry.Blogspot
Erica08 More than 1 year ago
I'm addicted to Tom Leveen's books.
Shorty17Rivera More than 1 year ago
I love this book because it's about romance. Also I love to hang out with Gothic people because I want to be Gothic except but parents don't want me to and overreact about it.
Lynnie48 More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book, but the ending was kind of insufficient in my opinion, then again, I said To Kill A Mockingbird had a dumb ending, back in Freshman year...
zakyra More than 1 year ago
i loved this book, it did take a little while before i was able to absorb myself into his writing style, zero is so full of emotion, conflict, and art is her outlet, she goes thru the rollarcoaster of life, one day everything is wonderful, the next its falling apart, and then back to wonderful again, the whole book really was set up for the one decision she would have to make at the end, i was stunned at the ending, not so much because i couldnt see why zero make her choice, it was the right one, but i was stunned because i know i would have been on that bus in a heartbeat
Anonymous More than 1 year ago