Dec 6, 2010

Zen & Xander Undone

Amy Kathleen Ryan, Zen & Xander Undone, 2010, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

After their mother's death Zen and Xander Vogel deal with their grief in two very different ways. Zen, a black belt in karate spends most of her days helping to teach classes at her dojo and having conversations with her dead mother. Xander, who is headed for either MIT or Caltech after graduation wears 'slutty' clothing, drinks, experiments with drugs, and starts sleeping around with random guys. The book traces their grieving process which is marked by such events as receiving letters and gifts from their deceased mother ala P.S. I Love You, finding out a 'secret' from their mother's past, and going on a road-trip to find the truth of this secret.

The trouble is, a character like Xander is seen all too often in young adult fiction where a parent dies, and this makes her character less engaging than her sister Zen, who seems to be at least attempting to work through her grief internally rather than via rebellious behavior. There is also a half-hearted love triangle between the sisters and their neighbor which is hard to care about since the neighbor is kind of a jerky teenage boy who is clearly driven by his lust for Xander. And like in many young adult books, the father is hidden away (literally in this case, as he spends most of the book in the basement) from where he will minimally parent and minimally influence much of the action of the book until the end when the author brings him out to help wrap up the plot.

Should this be in a teen library collection? Yes, if only because of Zen's character which is so very different from most fictional teens dealing with grief. It's also better than many other books which deal with the death of a parent.

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