Welcome to the final stop on the tour for the Blues for Zoey blog tour! In addition to this review, author Robert Paul Weston has very kindly offered a guest post, found here, about the music that influenced him the most in high school. If you have missed any of the other stops on the tour, look to the links below to check in with the other bloggers who have commented on Weston’s latest novel. As with all reviews, I’ll try not to include spoilers, so my apologies if details remain vague at times.
Kaz Barrett isn’t saving for college. Every penny he earns working at the sketchy Sit’N’Spin Laundromat is for his mother. He plans to send her to a top-notch (and very expensive) sleep clinic in New York. His mother suffers from an extremely rare neurological disorder that causes her to fall asleep for days at a time. Both he and his kid sister, Nomi, worry that one day, maybe tomorrow, their mother will fall asleep and never wake up.
At the start of summer, everything seems on track. Come September, Kaz will have earned all he needs and more. However, when anarchic, pink-haired Zoey walks past the laundromat’s window, Kaz’s ordered life begins spinning out of control. Smart, mysterious, and full of music, Zoey is unlike anyone Kaz has met, but there’s another side to her that he can’t quite figure out.
When he goes looking for answers, he finds a whirlwind of lies, half-truths, and violence. And in the eye of the storm, he’ll discover that you really can’t con an honest man…
Music was a huge part of my high school life. You have to understand – I grew up in a time when there was no internet <gasp> and if we wanted to hear a song, we had to (a) buy the album (on vinyl or cassette) or (b) wait for the song to appear on the radio. There was a third, unspoken option: you could create a mixed tape of your absolute favourite songs, with each tape having a specific theme or mood involved in its creation. The best of these often had funky self-created covers, listing artists and tracks, and using photos and sketches as artwork.
Reading Blues for Zoey was that same kind of sensory experience, as each character appeared in my head as their own kind of mixed tape. Kaz was those tapes filled with long-neglected favourite songs, the one you can sing along with without realizing it, but with the occasional oddball track to keep you on your toes. There’s a lot about Kaz that spoke to me about my own teen years, just like those long-forgotten favourite tunes that jog your memories in the first eight bars. Zoey was the holy grail of all mixed tapes – the bootleg, filled with artists who were just starting out, or who released a single song that everyone wanted. She’s elusive, hard to pin down and you’re not entirely sure what you’re getting with her. Each of the secondary characters had their own soundtrack as well; Kaz’s mother was a dreamy, Enya-inspired feel, while Dave Mizra had overtones of the Lovin’ Spoonful and Burton Cummings with the Guess Who.
Music is both a refuge and a curse for Weston’s characters. Kaz’s mother is convinced that the mysteriously correct sequence of notes was responsible for her somnitis, while Zoey grimly hangs on to her desire to pay music no matter where her father uproots her to live next. Dave Mizra is Kaz’s musical mentor, educating him on the value of artists such as The Ramones, The Clash, Patti Smith, Bowie and others (excellent taste, by the way). However, as with life, music can be interpreted in many ways, and each of the characters makes the choice to interpret their lives in a way they can live with, not necessarily way it actual appears. For Kaz’s mother, it means choosing to explore alternative therapies instead of a more conventional method that might likely cure her disease. For Kaz, it means giving in to loneliness and attraction in seeing Zoey as something more idealized than she might be in real life.
Blues for Zoey is a story about change – from being part of the in crowd to the outskirts – and about figuring who you are. You can’t help but feel for Kaz as he longs for a return to life before his father’s death – a life that included friends, social status, a girlfriend and a mother who wasn’t ill. There are multiple layers to examine as Kaz navigates his life as a potential boyfriend, an older brother, a worried son, an employee and breadwinner, and ultimately, as himself. Each role allows us to learn more about who Kaz is, even if he cannot see that for himself. This is a coming of age tale with a bitter twist, but one that rings true with the reader, especially anyone in high school who is facing the same life changes.
One of the hallmarks of a Robert Paul Weston novel is a tightly written, fast-paced narrative that almost drags you along with it as it reveals information, and this story is no exception. From the moment Kaz spots Zoey with her dreadlocks and rattler, things take off like a tornado. There’s a hint of the unknown about everything in Kaz’s life once Zoey arrives; you start to question the actions of Mr. Rodolfo and his locked basement room, the mysterious disappearance of the homeless man who hangs out behind the laundromat and even the history of Dave Mizra, the pawnbroker across the street. As Kaz notes on page one:
“This story is not a mystery. It’s a puzzle. A bunch of oddly cut slices of cardboard, jumbled together in an unmarked box. How do you sole a puzzle? You dump the pieces on a table, spread them around in a way that makes sense (or seems to), and then, one by one, you start putting it all together. That’s when the trouble starts.”
One note of caution – this is not another Zorgamazoo for younger readers, but rather an achingly honest and more mature novel that faces more adult topics while engaging readers of all abilities and interests.
Robert Paul Weston has a unique talent for creating a completely different experience with each book he writes, imbibing each with a sense of the mystic. With Blues for Zoey he’s created a world that is as familiar as our own back yards, yet with elements that keep us peeking ’round the corners, unsure of what we will find.
Blues for Zoey is now available from Indigo, Kobo and your friendly independent bookseller. ISBN: 9780143183289, 288 pages.