by Janae Marks
Kirkus After receiving a letter from her incarcerated father, whom she's never met, 12-year-old Zoe sets out to prove his innocence.It's the summer before seventh grade, and aspiring pastry chef Zoe sets her sights on perfecting her baking skills to audition as a contestant on Food Network's Kids Bake Challenge. One day, she receives a letter from her father, Marcus, who was sent to prison for murder right before Zoe was born. She's never met Marcus, and her mother wants her to have nothing to do with him. So Zoe keeps the letter a secret and begins corresponding with Marcus on a regular basis. He shares his favorite songs and encourages Zoe's baking-competition dreams. When Marcus proclaims his innocence, Zoe is shocked: How could someone innocent end up in prison? With the help of her grandmother and her friend Trevor, Zoe begins to learn about systemic racism and how black people like her and Marcus are more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder than white people. Zoe's relationship with Marcus is at the center of the novel, but her relationships with her mother, stepfather, grandmother, and Trevor are also richly conveyed. This powerful debut packs both depth and sweetness, tackling a tough topic in a sensitive, compelling way.An extraordinary, timely, must-read debut about love, family, friendship, and justice. (Fiction. 8-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Publishers Weekly On her 12th birthday, Zoe Washington receives a letter from Marcus, the biological father she’s never met, who has been serving time for murder since just before Zoe’s birth. Zoe’s mother and stepfather don’t want her in touch with Marcus, but Zoe, curious, strikes up a correspondence with the help of her maternal grandmother, who believes Marcus to be “a good person at heart.” Aspiring pastry chef Zoe grows busy as she makes up with her best friend Trevor, writes to Marcus, and interns at a family friend’s bakery, where she hopes to prove to her parents that she could compete on Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. When Marcus tells Zoe he is innocent, and her grandmother agrees, Zoe begins to learn about inequality in the criminal justice system, and she and Trevor set out to find the alibi witness who can prove his innocence. Debut author Marks seamlessly weaves timely discussions about institutionalized racism into this uplifting and engaging story that packs an emotional punch. Zoe is a relatable tween, with friendship and familial frustrations that will resonate with readers. Ages 8–12. Agent: Alexander Slater, Trident Media Group. (Jan.)
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Book list This exceptionally sweet debut from Marks illustrates profound cracks in the American criminal justice system while telling an affecting story grounded in the middle-grade experience. Zoe Washington, a soon-to-be seventh-grader growing up outside Boston, is celebrating a birthday bereft of friends due to distance and betrayal, when a surprise letter from her incarcerated father arrives and throws her life into emotional disarray. The clandestine correspondence they strike up, letters and a few phone calls facilitated by her maternal grandmother, has to be kept a secret from her mother, especially once Zoe decides to investigate whether her father is truly guilty of the dreadful crime that sent him to prison before she was born. Marks tells this story of forgiveness and redemption in a way that will make sense to tween readers without being patronizing or overly complicated. The troubling ways race affects the characters Zoe, who is Black, is subjected to microaggressions when out in public with her white stepfather and Black mother, and she questions whether her father would have been treated differently if he looked less like a typical suspect will facilitate important conversations about racial profiling and incarceration rates for people of color. Fortunately, Marks' capable storytelling and engaging characters also combine into a wondrous confection of a book, full of heart and hope and promise.--Shaunterria Owens Copyright 2019 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.