Goodreads: From the Desk of Zoe Washington
Published: January 14, 2020
Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime?
A crime he says he never committed.
Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge.
But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.
From the Desk of Zoe Washington is an engaging story about a daughter connecting with a father accused of a terrible crime, and a story that manages to remain hopeful even as the protagonist deals with complicated family relationships and becomes more aware of the systemic racism that can lead to the imprisonment of innocent people.
The colorful, quirky cover of From the Desk of Zoe Washington, as well as a sideplot about Zoe’s aspirations to become a kid baker on one of her favorite television shows might lead readers to believe this is a “fun” book. In many ways it is. The baking, and the music playlists Zoe receives from her father, and the adventures Zoe gets into with her grandmother and her best friend all help to balance the narrative and make it fairly light and optimistic.
Yet there are also some heavy themes here. Zoe goes from having no communication with her father at all (fair, considering what he has been convicted of) to communicating with him in secret to wondering if his attestations that he’s innocent can possibly be true. She discovers the Innocence Project and talks with her grandmother about the injustices of the judicial system and attempts to uncover the truth for herself. So there’s some “normal” kid stuff like sneaking behind her mother’s back to post letters to her father mixed with hard truths about racism and failures of systems that are supposed to protect everyone, as well as an undercurrent of doubt. Some people in prison are innocent—but is Zoe’s father?
I enjoyed this look at a topic I haven’t seen addressed in middle grade (or YA) before, and I do think the author does a good job of not letting the hard stuff overwhelm the book or Zoe’s life. The ending is a bit rushed and a bit neat, in my opinion, but the overall narrative is approachable, compelling, and informative.