From the Desk of Zoe Washington
by Janae Marks (2020)
An Intermediate and Middle School selection.
To my Little Tomato,
Happy Birthday. I can’t believe you’re twelve years old. Wow. Do I sound like a broken record when I say that you’re growing up so fast? I wish I could give you a hug and see your smiling face on your big day. I‘m sorry I can’t be there to celebrate with you. In the meantime, I want you to know that I think about you every day.
So begins your average letter from a father to his rapidly-growing-up daughter, right? Wrong.
Marcus is writing to his daughter, Zoe, from prison. And if Zoe’s mother has anything to say about, Zoe won’t receive these letters, and Zoe certainly won’t be allowed to respond. Zoe’s desire to build a relationship with her father lies at the heart of this novel, but there is so much more.
Zoe is a wonderful character to meet and spend time with. She just turned 12, she wants to be a pastry chef, she’s an intern at a local bakery, and she wants to audition for Food Network’s Kids Bake Off Challenge (and be the first Black girl to win). She’s also trying to figure out what happened to her friendship with her longtime best friend, Trevor. She’s an interesting, but fairly typical, tween kid.
All that changes when she receives a birthday letter from her father. Zoe begins to correspond with Marcus through letters. She gets to know him for the first time. He sends her music suggestions, she makes a Little Tomato playlist, and they connect. (It starts with Stevie Wonder.)
And then she learns her father might be innocent.
Zoe is inspired by the words of Maya Angelou, as conveyed by her Grandmother: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” While this quote is often applied to people who do bad things, her Grandmother explains that it should also apply to good people.
With the connivance of this supportive grandmother, Zoe begins to investigate. Her research efforts take her to a professor at Harvard (and a trip to Cambridge, MA) and she discovers the Innocence Project. Zoe learns and grows as she fights for her father’s exoneration and release.
But this book isn’t about Zoe growing up before her time. Her efforts will help her grow her relationship with her mother and with Trevor, too. She’ll open her eyes to some of her parents’ nostalgic music. And she’ll still end up caring a lot about that Bake Off Challenge.
Relationships, misunderstandings, and baking combine for a rich and rewarding novel. Spend time with Zoe. Dance to her father’s music. Learn about the cases of the wrongly convicted. Join Zoe as she forges a new and meaningful relationship with her Dad. And maybe even create a whole new flavor of cupcake.