after zero coverAfter Zero by Christina Collins

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2018

This debut novel was elevated from the run-of-the-mill “problem” novel partly by its insight into a disorder – selective mute syndrome – that apparently the author herself suffered from as a young woman. Elise has had a strange childhood, home-schooled, raised by a remote and apparently uncaring mother, and kept pretty much isolated from other children, to the extent that at 7 years old she had no idea what a birthday party was. Her father had been killed when she was born, reportedly by a drunk driver. When Elise finally persuades her mother to send her to a real school, she makes several social gaffes, turning the popular group of girls against her, including the one who lived next door to her and had been her friend. Her response to all this is to turn to silence. If when she speaks she makes a fool of herself, she thinks, it’s better not to speak.

Collins is most successful in making us understand Elise’s motivation, and the pain and confusion she feels when she is socially misunderstood. We also get inside the head of a sensitive and creative child, who expresses herself through writing. This was an enjoyable read, but not outstanding. There was a bit of clunky writing and some of the situations – especially her mother’s behaviour, both bad and good, were not completely believable. There was a sub-plot involving a raven that I guessed was added to give some “mythic” resonance to things, but that I didn’t find convincing or necessary. I liked the boy who becomes Elise’s friend, and would have liked to see some of the other characters a bit more fully developed. Things are rather too easily solved, and the conflicts rather too black and white for full believability. However, I would recommend it to the middle-grade age-group it is marketed for.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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