________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 17. . . .January 3, 2014


Blues for Zoey.

Robert Paul Weston.
Toronto, ON: Razorbill/Penguin Canada, 2014.
278 pp., trade pbk., $16.00.
ISBN 978-0-14-318328-0.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Susie Wilson.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



My mother’s name is Aiko, which means “love child.” (In Japanese, it isn’t quite so hippy sounding. It’s just a normal name, like Jane or Sarah. Even still, my mom definitely has some hippy tendencies, and it’s possible that was where they came from.) Her great-grandparents came over from Kyoto in the sixties, which makes her an yonsei, a term that means “fourth generation.” Nowadays, in my family, yonsei might be the only word of Japanese any of us know.

Someone sat alone on the bench. It was a girl in a red, pleated skirt, high-laced boots and a black camisole that showed off long, willowy arms. She had a book in her lap, so her head was cast down. Even still, I know who she was by her hair: blonde, pink and purple dreadlocks.

“I know you,” I blurted.

She looked up quickly, as if I’d startled her, and her eyes hardened. She looked tense. “You think? From where?”

I wanted to answer, but I couldn’t. I was too struck by her face. Her face was gorgeous. She wasn’t “hot,” not like the girl I had just lost to Devon. This girl was more like movie-star gorgeous, the kind of face you don’t believe exists, not in real life, and certainly not in a gazebo out behind Topher Brigg’s house. But here she was.


Blues for Zoey drops readers right into Kaz Barrett’s life the summer before his last year of high school, which just happens to be the summer that his life gets turned upside down. Written in an incredibly earnest and believable first-person narrative, all of the hardships Kaz faces make him a compelling character: his father died when Kaz was young, forcing his family to move and start over, struggling to make ends meet; Kaz’s mother, who suffers from somnitis, a rare sleeping disorder that leaves her unconscious for days on end, will only seek alternative therapies to try and cure it; Kaz works long hours at the Laundromat below his apartment, with the singular goal of sending his mother to a top-rate medical clinic that costs a small fortune; and, of course, Kaz is a teenager who feels awkward in his skin and is struggling to fit in. In the wrong hands, these circumstances could be turned into a tale of woe just too difficult to be true, but Weston’s prose and the roll-with-the-punches attitude apparent in Kaz from the start instead immediately create an endearing boy readers can’t help but instinctively root for.

     Kaz’s summer gets exciting when Zoey, the strange, beautiful girl who has started busking on the street where he lives and works, enters his life. And, as Kaz says to begin the book, “This story is not a mystery. It’s a puzzle.” As excitement and intrigue begin to swirl around the tornado in Kaz’s life that is Zoey, it’s a puzzle that readers can put together, always a step or two ahead of the narrator. This isn’t to say that the mystery is too simple to be interesting, or that a twist is obviously telegraphed by the writer, but that it goes to show how being young, naïve, and in love can cause a person to jump to all of the wrong conclusions and none of the right ones.

     While Weston creates incredibly believable central characters, some secondary characters are present enough that their lack of development is obviously flat and slightly caricatured in comparison. Mr. Rodolfo, Kaz’s boss, is too obviously painted as a potential criminal, from the goon-like brothers of his that hang around to the illegal poker games he hosts to his extreme protection of the privacy of his downstairs office. In contrast, A and B, two homeless men who hang around the neighbourhood, have very little revealed about them, and yet they feel more like real people than simple stereotypes. Most notably, Weston writes deftly in a noir style, creating quick pacing and interesting structure, without allowing any tropes of the style to overshadow the rich, detailed, believable world he created.

     Blues For Zoey is a wonderful coming-of-age story, one that shows that events, and not time, are what cause a young adult to “grow up” and move away from childhood naivety and expectations. The multiple levels through which readers can see the events, as outsiders looking in on Kaz’s life and how Kaz himself is experiencing them, create a richer reading experience than more single-dimensional teen dramas tend towards. Love, mystery, betrayal, and struggle create a well-rounded story that will appeal to readers of a variety of interests, and while the vocabulary is certainly not low-level, the quick pace and short chapters will likely draw in slower, more reluctant readers.

Highly Recommended.

Susie Wilson, a recent SLIS grad from University of Alberta, lives and works in Prince George, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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