Dear Zoe by Philip Beard is this author's debut book. And what a debut this book is in my opinion. This is a book to be read not once, but several times. And each time one can explore some new aspect of a sad tale from which not only the characters in this book can learn from but something which teaches all of us about life and loss.
Tess's youngest sister dies on September 11th but not as a result of the Twin Towers tragedy. Unfortunately While waiting for the school bus, Tess takes her eyes off her sister, Zoe for a couple of minutes and when Zoe wanders off and into the street, she is hit and killed by a reckless driver.
The death of a sibling is horrific at any age but for Tess the guilt is even greater. Zoe was Tess's half sister -- the child of her mother's second marriage and the beloved youngest child of this family. Tess is faced with unbearable agony and guilt over this event and asks herself many questions as the family tries to recover. First and foremost Tess asks herself how a devoted older sister will ever cope with her younger sisters death? And how does she cope with the fact that she was at fault for her sister's death when she turned away just for that moment? How will she ever cope with the fact that in that moment when she turned away she was finding out about the 9/11 tragedy in New York City? And the final question posed to her that day will forever haunt her when her mother asked, "Where's Zoe?" And most of all how will Tess cope with the fact that while the world at large is mourning a terrorist attack in Manhattan her sister's death goes almost unnoticed.
Dear Zoe is a letter to Zoe from Tess basically their first year without her. More than that thought this book tells the story, in frank and poignant passages, how Tess not only came to terms with Zoe's death but how she also came to terms with her part in this tragedy and to forgive herself. But for Tess to deal with her part in the tragedy and come to grips with this isn't easy. The book is filled with events during that long year and how Tess grows up and ventures into almost another world as she goes to live with her negligent father and finds herself falling in love with the boy next door who may or may not be right for Tess. While Dear Zoe deals with the tragedy of Zoe's death, in a sense it deals more with Tess's coming of age as she deals with the love for her lost sister, for the love her family provides for one another, the love her errant father shows towards her and Tess's. And as painful as it is for us to read this book, we know that Tess will come out of this overwhelmingly sad even much stronger and wiser for knowing about the power of love and forgiveness.
In many respects this book, with a strong young female adolescent character, reminded me of the main character from The Usual Rules by Joyce Maynard and Katie Nash from the Durable Goods trilogy by Elizabeth Berg. Each of these books provided me with characters I felt I knew well and ones I won't ever forget.
Dear Zoe is a letter, from Tess DeNunzio to her younger sister, who died in a hit-and-run accident on a day when the world's attention was focused elsewhere, with no grief to spare for Zoe's death, except in Tess's family. On September Eleventh, 2001, Zoe died, leaving Tess and her family devastated. It's certainly something we don't think about, all the personal tragedies that played out on that day. When you hear the words 'September Eleventh,' you see the towers falling or the Pentagon smoking, not the individual deaths of all of those people, related or not to terrorism, on that day.
That's not what that day means to Tess, though. To fifteen-year-old Tess and her family, it means the loss of her little sister, Zoe. It means their lives are changed forever, in ways the rest of the world (to whom that day may seem life-changing as well) can never imagine. Still, Tess has to find a way to handle it all, to go on with her life, to keep on living even if Zoe can't.
Philip Beard's Dear Zoe is a powerful and emotional story about love, grief, growing up, and moving on even when forgetting is impossible. It's a story about one personal tragedy on a day when everyone else mourns the deaths of thousands of others. In Dear Zoe, Tess is just one of a cast of very real characters; her voice is powerful, and will have the reader's attention from the beginning to the end, keeping the reader breathless and racing through the book, but still not going too quickly--wouldn't want to miss something!
Dear Zoe is a powerfully moving, beautifully written story that will haunt readers even after closing the book at the end of the last page. This painfully honest, breathtaking novel is sure to be a favorite with all who read it.
Fifteen-year-old Tess is still reeling from her three-year-old sister's death a year ago. On that fall morning when millions of Americans mourned thousands of others, Tess and her family only mourned one death: Zoe. Dear Zoe is Tess's letter to her lost sister, not meant to be mailed, of course, but to get her feelings on paper. She explains everything, from her life before Zoe, before David (Zoe's father and Tess's stepfather) even, to her downwards spiral after the accident, her move to her father's house, and the things she discovers there. As Tess writes to Zoe, layers are pulled away slowly and cautiously, bit by bit, until we can see the raw grief of a girl who doesn't know what to do or where to turn. Her other sister, Em, helps her, but also hurts her because she's not only a reminder of what is lost, but she's also struggling with her own grief. Jimmy Freeze, the boy next door at her dad's house, helps keep her mind off things, but Tess hasn't decided yet whether or not that's a good thing or a bad thing. This book is heartbreaking and compelling, and though Tess's letter begins stoically and matter-of-fact, her barrier soon dissolves and her raw emotion is apparent. This book will surely touch your heart and force you to appreciate your siblings. The familial issues at hand are common of many families, not only those which have suffered a loss, and Tess could be anyone you know: your best friend, your sister, your cousin. This first novel from Philip Beard is most definitely a winner.