by Clay Carmichael
performed by Liz Morton and Nicole Poole
Published 2009 by Recorded Books
6 hours, 47 minutes. Unabridged.
Following the death of her mentally ill mother, 11-year-old Zoë moves to North Carolina to live with her uncle, a metal sculptor named Henry. It doesn’t take long for the sharp-tongued Zoë to warm to some of the town’s eccentric residents, including a woods dwelling teenager, who helps Zoë in unexpected ways.
Young Adult is a category that I can appreciate, but don’t read all that often, so I thought I’d mention one that left me saying “Wow!” after it was over; although initially, when I realized the opening narration was by the cat (later named “Mr. C’mere” by Zoe*), my eyes really began to roll. After that opening gambit, Zoe’s “I’ve been abused (neglected) so don’t trust adults” cynicism didn’t promise much either, but … the story gradually expands scope to imply there’s more coming. And it does, so that by the end quite a lot has changed for several people, all of whom were strangers to Zoe. None of them are stock, cardboard either; I can’t think of one that could’ve been done much differently, let alone cut or conflated with another. I suppose if I were to quibble, Zoe’s a bit precocious for a kid who’d barely attended school by age twelve. Moreover, the whole thing has rather a magical fairy tale quality, but … hey … it’s fiction!
Ms. Carmichael ended the story so that a sequel would work, or a spin-off of another character or two (sorry, spoiler avoidance). On the other hand, it’d be okay to let Zoe get on with things. Just not another five years – which was okay to get this first book just right, but I’m too interested to see what’s next from the author!
There are two narrators: one for the cat, and one for Zoe, each doing such a good job that I feel the print book might leave a reader skimming over the former sections (“Oh, the cat and her ‘observations’ again.”), and missing out on the stubbornness in Zoe’s tone.
* “Mr. C.” serves as a sort of omniscient narrator, setting the stage for Zoe’s arrival, and later observing things she cannot know directly herself.