Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Zoe Letting Go by Nora Price

Happy 2013, everyone! Just popping in with a review before some friends and I celebrate by going to see Les Miserables.

Title: Zoe Letting Go
Author: Nora Price
Publisher: Razorbill
Release Date: June 14, 2012
Pages: 272 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: Christmas gift
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: author website

Zoe Letting GoA girl's letters to her best friend reveal two lives derailed by anorexia in this haunting debut that's Wintergirls meets The Sixth Sense

It's not a hospital, a spa, or an institution. That's what they told me--that's what the brochures promised.

But no matter what the brochures promised, Zoe finds that Twin Birch is a place for girls with a penchant for harming themselves. Through journal entries and letters to her best friend, Elise, she tries to understand why she was brought there, and how she could possibly belong in a place like this. But Zoe's letters to Elise remain unanswered. She wonders why her best friend would cut her off without a word, reliving memory after memory of their beautiful, rocky, inescapable friendship. But everyone has secrets--including Zoe--and as her own fragile mental state hangs in the balance, she must finally learn to come to terms with what happened to Elise before she's able to let go.

Fans of Laurie Halse Anderson and Girl, Interrupted will race through this hauntingly emotional debut novel with the pacing of a psychological thriller.


Any books that calls itself Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (one of my all-time favorite novels) and anything else is an instant must-read. Zoe Letting Go claimed to be just that, but the two only share the element of the main character having an eating disorder. I don't even know where the other half of the pitch comes in. Zoe Letting Go starts out well and becomes a novel of its own instead of a standard eating disorder novel, but stalls halfway through and never regains momentum.

 Unlike most novels of its kind, this one stars a girl who is just starting down the path to anorexia instead of being neck-deep in it when the novel begins. To start with, we question if Zoe even has an eating disorder at all because her mindset is so unlike what we think of when it comes to people with eating disorders--or even what I've read in other novels. It takes spending time with her fellow patients to adopt their number-obsessed habits! Still, as we read on, it becomes clear she was on her way to being like Victoria, a fellow patient who has been in treatment for her anorexia five times.

The first half of the novel is utterly compelling as we dig deeper into Zoe's psyche and try to figure out what's going on with her. It's after the halfway point that things start to unravel. Once we realize she is indeed anorexic, interest starts waning. Something brought up in one of Zoe's earliest sessions with Alexandra seems too noteworthy to be a one-off like the novel treats it--and it's not a one-off. If readers pay attention to it, they can quickly figure out the main twist, which is what Zoe's real problem is. I suspected it early on, but thanks to a reviewer who didn't tag their spoilers (THANKS, ASSHOLE), it was confirmed.

Her friendship with Elise is supposed to be the most compelling element of the novel, judging by the marketing, but Zoe's time in Twin Birch and her interactions with fellow patients are more interesting than how she and Elise were together. The most interesting part of the Elise storyline comes only near the end of the novel, when we see how the severe diet the girls went on together led to Zoe developing mild anorexia and Elise developing a much more severe case of the same disorder. I also started getting really irritated when the characters let the r-word (retard/retarded) fly.

On the bright side, this is the first exception to my Zoe curse in a long while. For some reason, I dislike an inordinate number of books I've read in which there is a main character named Zoe. No other name has this phenomenon and before anyone suggests it, the name Zoe has nothing to do with why I dislike the novels. I'm not sure if I'll keep an eye on Nora Price and any future novels she'll publish, but she's got the skill to draw me in to begin with. Maybe she'll develop the ability to keep my attention for an entire novel.

3 stars!

What am I reading next?: Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson