Sunday, April 01, 2012

Review: Zero by Tom Leveen

·         The review will first be posted the week of April 1, 2012.
·         Short summary from http://www.netgalley.com:
Title:
Zero
Publisher:
Random House Children's Books
Imprint:
Random House BFYR
Pub Date:
April 24, 2012
ISBN:
9780375869211
Author:       

Tom Leveen
FICTION - JUVENILE:

Arts & Recreation: Performing Arts
Family & Everyday Life: Social Issues
Family & Everyday Life: Love & Romance
Extent:

304 p

Nothing to do. Nowhere to go. No one to talk to.
     For aspiring artist Amanda Walsh, who only half-jokingly goes by the nickname Zero, the summer before college was supposed to be fun—plain and simple. 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, and she has a falling out with Jenn that can only be described as majorly awkward, and Zero's parents relationship goes from tense to relentless fighting, her prospects start looking as bleak and surreal as a painting by her idol Salvador Dali. Will life truly imitate art? Will her new, unexpected relationship with a punk skater boy who seems too good to be real and support from the unlikeliest of sources show Zero that she's so much more than a name.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
TOM LEVEEN is a native of Arizona, living within sight of Camelback Mountain his entire life. He has been involved with live theatre as an actor and director since 1988, and has been the artistic director and co-founder of two theatre companies. Zero is his second novel. You can visit Tom at his Web site: TomLeveen.com.
____________________________________________________
Dali & punk rock & college, oh my!

I didn’t like the beginning of this story until I read…

“Moist,” I call.
“That’s kind of a gross word, you know!” Dad shouts, laughing…”

In a lunchtime discussion I had with my colleagues a few years ago, I found out that some of them were skeeved out by the word ‘moist.’ It was fun to find out that, what I thought was a local hang up, crossed geographical boundaries. Since the mood around the main character, Zero, had lightened up, I, too, was able to lighten up to the self-deprecating 17 year old. 

Leveen portrays Zero as insecure but hopeful, as many just-graduated-from-high-school young adults are. In a Rory Gilmore Girl-esque manner, everything Zero has done until now hinged on her going to the art college of her dreams. But when scholarships don’t allow that to happen, Zero experiences a disquieting, shifting perception of herself. Having so many different monikers reflects her situation well; Zero is also called Amanda, Amy, and Z.

Confusing what she sees when she looks into posters instead of into mirrors for her reflection suggests the person she sees or doesn’t see. The reader further finds out that she has misperceptions of herself when her boyfriend, Mike, repeatedly tells her that she is nice-looking, and her mother buys clothes for her that are flattering – clothes that she never would have thought of choosing for herself.

It’s obvious that Leveen has done a lot of research for this book. What I thought were made-up names for punk bands and rockers turned out to be a conglomeration of real bands and people. After a brief excursion into the research myself, I found the following true references in Zero:

1.     Nightrage is a Swedish/Greek/Scandinavian death metal rock band 2001-2011
2.     Gothic Rainbow is a 1997 novel labeled “fairiepunk”
3.     D.I. Southern Cal band 1982-present & Casey Royer is real
4.     Ghost of Banquo a.k.a. Re-Enter Ghost of Banquo – British metal/scream/techno band 2007-08
5.     Pathos – thrash metal/progressive from Sweden since 1995
6.     Black Phantom [Crusades] – indie post-punk (2002)
7.     Minor Threat – hard core punk 1980-1983 & Ian MacKaye is a real person
8.     Jane’s Addiction & Perry Farrell
9.     [Red Hot] Chili Peppers

I made the not-so-giant-leap assumption, then, that Leveen’s artistic references to Dali, Monet, Renoir, Matisse, Warhol, O’Keefe, Cassatt, Seurat, and Delacroix are also well-researched. Leveen uses the abstract and Gestalt-like artistic styles of Surrealism, Impressionism, Pointillism, and Cubism to emphasize the incomplete or fuzzy view Zero has of herself, her friendships, and her future.

I like the implications one can make from the juxtaposition of a punker with an artist. Stereotypes of intelligence, talent, aesthetics, and taste challenge the reader to become more involved with the book, especially if one does not have more experience with these topics other than pre-conceived notions. Teen readers do not have to know a great deal about either topic to retain interest in Zero’s societal challenges and self conflicts.

Leveen elevated the book’s appeal for me mostly because he wrote a story with an ending -- a believable, authentic ending that developed naturally from the experiences Zero endured. In spite of not being explicitly told about Zero five years from now – and that’s not what I would have wanted as a reader, anyway -- I was not left wondering why Zero made the decisions she made or how she was going to fare in the future. I was satisfied with Zero’s character development, and that’s a great thing to be able to say about a YA book.

Note: The sex, drugs and punk rock in this book more than allude to under-age drinking and a lesbian relationship. Both subjects belong in this soul-searching story.

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