By Philip Beard
September 11, 2001 was a tragic day in U.S. history. Tess’ three-year-old sister Zoe died that day, just as countless others did. Many died in the terrorist attack, but others like Zoe died in other places where the magnitude of their death only devastated a family, not a nation. But each and every one are tragedies nonetheless.
In Dear Zoe, fifteen-year-old Tess begins to write a letter to the little sister who will never read it. She tells Zoe little things about her life that she may have told her when she got older. Like how they decided as a family to name her Zoe. She also tells her about how the family she left is coping with the hole left in their lives when Zoe died.
Tess is actually Zoe’s step-sister. Her mom and step-father married when Tess was young, after her mom divorced her real dad, who still plays a part in Tess’ life. He isn’t necessarily a bad person, but is more of a dreamer and sometimes a schemer who always finds a reason not to work.
David, Tess’ step-father, is a hard working family man who loves her. He didn’t really know much about being a father, but got better at it as the family grew with two more daughters, Emily and Zoe. Tess always thought of Em and Zoe as her sisters, never “half” or “step”, loving them both with her whole heart.
After Zoe’s accident the little family imploded. The only one that seemed to be “normal” was Em. The seven-year-old has always been wise beyond her years, but losing the little sister she adored and watching the rest of her fragile family float away from her was way too much for a first grader to handle.
This book is quite possibly one of the best books I have ever read. The underlying sadness of Zoe’s death mixed with the joy she brought to the family in her three short years is heart-breakingly beautiful. Now Tess has to grow up fast and could easily take the wrong path when it is practically dropped in her lap.
Em is the one that broke my heart. She was so lost without anyone to tell her life would be ok I wanted to bring her home to keep her safe until her family was well enough to do it themselves. Em made me cry more than once as she watched her family disengage from the life she knew and she was too small to get it back.
Beard is an extraordinary author. He creates characters that are so well developed they don’t just seem real; they ARE real to the reader. Tess grows up in the year it takes her to write this love letter to Zoe, and it is not without pain. We are swept along through her loss of innocence, hoping she will make it through this personal journey without too many scars.
This is Beard’s first book, and has since written two more, Lost in the Garden and Swing. I’ve read Swing and plan to order Lost in the Garden today. It is rare to find an author that can write in so many different voices and make all of them come to life. The stories he tells are rich and full, giving the reader enough details to pull you into the world he has created with his words without a hint of slowing the flow of the intricately beautiful plot.
I read a lot of books. Only a handful of authors amaze me. Philip Beard is one of them.
Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman
DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.