OPINION: 4 STARS
Unconventional compared to a lot of YA, Zero is stunning in it’s scope. Taking a main character who has plenty of confidence and body image issues, and who is far from the usual outgoing, girly girl kind of character, Leveen has crafted a book that will speak to many readers without them really even realizing it. Though slow to start, and the kind of ending that you have to let sink in before it’s really appreciated, Zero is a great romance mixed with coming of age mixed with just living your life.
I love Zero has a character, from the skewed way she sees herself to the awkwardness that surrounds her, to the screw it attitude she takes on sometimes. With only one friend, who she isn't talking to at the start of the book, and a home life that causes a huge amount of stress for her, there are plenty of reasons for Zero to just hole up in her room and hide, spending her times with her paints and charcoals. While this is her fall back at times, she surges forward at other times, and ends up meeting Mike, a boy who goes far to change her outlook on things. She goes through tremendous growth and change in this one, and though she definitely makes mistakes, and is maybe a brat at times, her reasons are so easy to understand, her pain so evident, that it’s impossible to dislike her. One of the things I loved most about Zero, though, was her almost boy-ish sense of humor. Far from perverted, she has her moments, and every one of them had me cracking up. She also has some almost lame and cheesy lines and thoughts, adding to not only her character but the humor as well, and coming off completely natural. Her love of music also incorporates into the book, but even more is her obsession with Dali, and Leveen does a phenomenal job building that in without it being overbearing.
Mike is a great character, and an almost perfect match for Zero. Enamored with her for his own reasons, and frustrated when she makes degrading comments about herself, he forces her to realize she is beautiful, even if not strictly in the fashion model sense. With a quiet intensity about him, just the right amount of awkwardness, and the kind of guy who doesn’t throw smiles around like candy, making each one mean so much and leave you melting just a little, Mike is a realistic and endearing character.
This book is, in a lot of ways, a romance. Sure, there’s other stuff in there too, but the romance was one of the best parts for me, in large part because it is so organic. Zero sees Mike play at a show, and in a moment of just not caring, because she’s so out of sorts from everything else in her life at the time, she talks to him. Awkward and embarrassing, it’s the sort of exchange that every reader will be able to understand, and is the point in the book that really had me engaged. They start to see each other, and things grow from there, and Leveen absolutely nails the building of feeling, desire, love and lust… nails trying to figure all of that, what it means, how to take it and what to do with it. I adore these two as a couple, both for what they can do to help the other, and the growing connection between them. Certainly not without their faults and issues to overcome, but still with a stunning realism in every aspect of it, this is the perfect kind of romance that will leave you with a smile.
While the start of the book did drag a little, it does a great job of showing not only how Zero came to view the world like she does, but the problems she’s dealing with before Mike ever walks into her life. Once things between the pair starts happening, the book keeps a steady pace, and Leveen throws in plenty of smaller plots to keep things interesting. Focused on Zero, but pulling in not only Mike’s band and what’s happening with them, but also the problems with her parents, this book has some rough elements mixed in with the sweeter ones. Well written, with a distinct and fantastically done voice, Zero is an unflinching must read.
Reading level: Ages 14 and up
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 24, 2012