From the Desk of Zoe Washington
by Janae Marks (2020)
An Intermediate and Middle School selection.
Zoe Washington is intrepid. She’s just turned 12, she wants to be a pastry chef, she’s interning 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 navigate a rough patch with her longtime best friend, Trevor.
However, everything Zoe knows about her roots changes when she receives a birthday letter from her father, Marcus:
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.
Marcus is writing to his daughter, Zoe, from prison. As far as Zoe knows, Marcus has committed a terrible crime and deserves to be punished for it, but then she begins to correspond with him through letters. Marcus sends her music suggestions and Zoe, in turn, makes a Little Tomato playlist. She finds that Marcus is kind, thoughtful, caring, and… he may be innocent. This revelation forces Zoe to confront the story her mother has told all of Zoe’s life, and to help Marcus’s voice be heard for the first time in twelve years.
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. She discovers the Innocence Project, an organization that helps innocent people get out of prison. Zoe’s also able to mend her friendship with Trevor, who becomes a vital research partner. He even accompanies her on a trip to Cambridge, MA where they find a professor at Harvard who could be the key to freeing Marcus. Zoe continues to learn and grow as she fights for her father’s exoneration and release.
But this book isn’t about Zoe growing up before her time. Her determination to do the right thing helps in growing her relationship with her mother. She’ll open her eyes to some of her parents’ nostalgic music. And she’ll still end up caring a lot about making cupcakes and training for the Bake Off Challenge.
Relationships, misunderstandings, and baking combine for a rich, rewarding novel. Dance to that Little Tomato playlist. 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!