Immediately after her twelfth birthday, budding baking big shot Zoe Washington stumbles upon a letter from her father. She’s conflicted about this for various reasons. For one, she’s never received any sort of communication from him before. They have no real relationship of which to speak, him having been out of the picture even before she was born. Indeed, considering the fact that he is currently in jail for murder, Zoe’s not entirely sure she wants any sort of relationship with him. Still, she knows precious little about her father, since her mother has all but forbidden the subject. Curiosity wins her over and she ends up replying, starting a series of correspondence that will upend everything Zoe thought she knew about her estranged father.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks is a quick and lovely read about a seriously heavy topic. The fact that it also happens to be about the baking dreams of a twelve-year-old girl and that it doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the more somber theme of wrongful incarceration is yet another testament to the versatility of children’s fiction, as well as the resilience of its target audience, who can — and should — read about weighty, complicated issues.
There’s a lot to like here, starting with Zoe herself. The book is told from her point-of-view, and she has a playful, sagacious voice. The letters between her and her father, Marcus, are as charming as they are heartbreaking. She also has an inquisitive nature, which shines in the more mystery-inspired sections of the story. Given the themes here, adults obviously play a large part, and I like that they are portrayed in a reasonable and realistic manner, rather than the bumbling, oblivious way that is still the norm in a lot of children’s fiction. A great read, overall.