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.
Amanda, or Zero as she goes by, is a struggling artist with terrible self esteem. When the books opens, her life is a total mess, at least according to her. She's obsessed with the famed Salvador Dali and had planned to attend art school in Chicago, was even accepted but her scholarship was pulled at the last minute due to her lack of technical ability. Her home life consists of an alcoholic father and an enabling mother and she's had a major falling out with her BFF Jenn.* The only thing Z takes solace in at the moment is her painting and drawing but even those are have her doubting her talent.
In an attempt to drown herself in self pity, she heads out to a local club to catch one of the bands playing. While there she has a somewhat painful run-in with Jenn but that gives her the courage to speak to Mike, the guy with the amazing eyes, who also happens to be the drummer for "Gothic Rainbow" a local band that's going places. Mike and Z's first conversation is both awkward and funny and her insecurity is palpable. It ends with Mike promising to call and Z doubting he will.
Mike holds true to his promise to call Z which shocks her and sets them on a journey of love, forgiveness and learning to believe in yourself. Their first date, which is one of my favorite scenes in the book and takes place at "Hole in the Wall", is a blend of nervous energy and hesitant disclosures. I found it to be funny and sweet especially when Mike presses Z about why she she came up to him that night in the club. Here's a glimpse:
Then he goes, "So--- well, screw it, why'd you talk to me last weekend?"
Hell-oh! Forward much? Slow down!
Mike's still watching me. My mouth goes dry again and I curl my fingers together into an abandoned church, broken steeple, no people. I stall with a sip of my drink. ...
"Your eyes, " I say at a volume of a quarter decibel.
Mike blinks. "Say again?"
"You have incredible eyes," I say into my lap.
"And hair, " I add.
"And I liked your music," I mutter.
Ladies and gentleman, Amanda "Grace Under Pressure" Walsh! Yaaaaaay!
I can feel him staring at me. "Which came first?"
I glance up. "Huh?"
"Was it the band or ----- you know. Me. I guess."
It should sound like an arrogant question, but Mike's tone isn't that. He looks mildly uncomfortable, in fact, like he gave the wrong answer in trig class.
Feeling brave, I say, "Okay, so then why'd you talk to me? I assume it'll be the D.I. thing. Feels like no one around here knows who they are, so probably he only came here tonight to talk about music. Which is fine with me. Mostly.
"I wanted to see if you were for real," he says, Um...
"Could you unpack that a little more for me here?"
"You...I dunno. Got something going on."
I do? I can't resist a smile.
Mike shakes his head. "And that was a truly lame thing to say."
And I think: Like hell it was!
There's a lot more to this conversation but it's obvious he assumed the only reason she came up to him was because she was a groupie while she thought he was just humoring her because he has girls coming up to him all the time. It's funny to watch the realization hit the both of them that maybe, just maybe they could be interested in one another because they're both worthy and interesting individuals.
As their relationship continues to grow Mike shows Amanda that she's worth so much more than her nickname, "Zero"; that's she's beautiful and her artwork is, in fact, good. She helps him learn to love again (even if he never verbalizes it) getting him to realize she loves him for him, not just because he's in a band. As the summer winds downs, it becomes clear they'll be faced with some tough choices, choices they'll have to make together and separately but that will ultimately affect both of their futures. When Mike's band is given the chance to go on tour and he asks Amanda to go along, she'll have to decide if this is the opportunity for escape she's been waiting for. Is she strong enough to follow her own dreams even if it means letting Mike go?
I was honestly surprised with the way this book ended. I thought one of two things was going to happen, 1) Mike was going to be killed in a bus accident on the way to California because of the conversation he and Amanda had or 2) Amanda would've made the choice to go with Mike, to see the different cities and to have the opportunity to live a little. I know I would've done that if I'd had a chance. I never expected her to say no especially after she sold her painting, her Dad went to get help and she went to meet him at the bus station. Maybe she would've gone if Mike had actually told her that he loved her, which I think he did but just couldn't say the words. The fact that he stayed behind to ask her to go on tour with him in person was his way of showing her that he loved her but I guess she needed the actual words from him.
I'm an "Epilogue" junkie and would have LOVED to see what a year down the road looked like for both of them but no such luck. I was actually so bothered by the way this book ended that I literally dreamed a different ending in my sleep. *sighs*
* The falling out that Jenn and Z have is over the fact that Jenn puts the moves on Z and takes things pretty far in fact. They've been friends for several years and this is the first that Z has known Jenn is attracted to girls as well as guys.
Zero is an artist with some serious insecurities. She thinks she's a cow and her parents are too busy with their constant fighting to help subside those insecurities. She's afraid that her entire summer is going to be wrapped in boredom because she just lost her best friend and she didn't get accepted into her dream college. Mike is the gorgeous-eyed drummer who had a really bad run with his ex-girlfriend. He's more experienced than she is, but the fact that he was previously burned prevents him from really wanting to GO THERE, if ya know what I mean. Actually, if anything, it was the other way around. Zero pressured Mike to do things he wasn't ready for. I could tell from the get-go that, despite his rockerness, Mike is a good guy and that he is going to treat Zero well. He helped her reach for her goals and dreams. He helped her gain confidence and believe in herself. And, not to mention, I'm sort of obsessed with the drums and have a serious thing for drummer dudes.
I loved their relationship. It began with extreme awkwardness, which made it so real and familiar and relatable. And somehow their feelings bloomed into something that manages to transcend that initial awkwardness. There's no instant, "OMG I LOVE THIS GUY SO MUCH AND WE ARE GOING TO GET MARRIED AND MAKE BABIEZZZZZZZ." Their relationship progressed naturally. There are rough spots and there are not-so-rough (soft?) spots. They're not the perfect couple with this unwavering bolt of lightning crackling between them, but they are perfect for each other and each encounter between the two of them made my tummy tumble in a good way. It did annoy me that Zero refused to listen to what Mike really wanted. She was a little self-absorbed in their relationship, not even when it was extremely obvious that something has him down.
There were little things thrown in the pages that I wish would have surfaced more and caused more drama. Instead they just sort of lurked in the background, adding to the overall angst that Zero feels. I really wish that the situation with Jenn, her former best friend, would have come into the light more. It was a great sub-plot and it didn't get enough page time. Also, I feel the whole parent ordeal was elevated just a little more. It was there screwing up Zero's life and whatnot, but maybe just a little more? Is it horrible that I want her life to be just a tad bit more miserable?
The end, though, left me satisfied. The character and plot growth is obvious. The way things turned out was happy, even though there were a lot of little loose threads hanging from the tied ends.
Overall, I loved this book! It has an unflinching, authentic quality that really stayed with me. Some of the content will make younger audiences uncomfortable (except me, because I clearly have no comfort zone). But underneath it all is a novel about branching out and pursuing what seems to be impossible.