Title: Zoey’s Zany Life
Author: Mikayla Lowery
Genre: MG Fiction / Humor
Zoey’s Zany Life, by Mikayla Lowery, is intended as a book for a middle grade/pre-teen audience, most likely girls, but not necessarily as boys could enjoy it as well. It should not be mistaken as the typical coming-of-age story, but instead as one emphasizing personal growth and development.
The primary character in the story is Zoey Song. Zoey is energetic, talkative, artistic, and sometimes reckless. The last of these characteristics serves as the primary driving element of the plot. Zoey has a twin sister, Zelena, who features quite heavily in the book and is nearly the exact opposite of her sister as she is calm, quiet, academic, and cautious. Several other supporting characters also dot the plot’s landscape, including Zoey and Zelena’s parents and older brother (Zachary).
Most of the book’s plot revolves around Zoey either doing something she should not or coming up with a relatively hair-brained idea. Both actions typically involve other people and lead to a wide array of consequences that unfold through the course of the book, which sets it up with educational tones.
This book conveys an underlying theme of living in the shadow of other people and being made to feel smaller by their accomplishments. This goes in both directions with regards to Zoey and Zelena as Zoey thinks that Zelena gets everything she wants and is the perfect child, while Zelena wishes she had Zoey’s bravery and effervescence. Like many children, both girls fail to recognize their own strengths. This aspect of the story could serve an educational and inspirational purpose for children and young teens.
Compared to the young characters, most of the adults in the story are one-dimensional, stifling the wishes and personalities of the children and generally acting as stalwarts of responsible behavior. The two standouts are Carly (Zoey’s college-aged cousin) and Ms. Galifinakis (the Star Scout leader).
Carly, perhaps because of her age, but probably more due to her own perception of possible future unhappiness in her life’s trajectory, is positively engaged with Zoey and seeks to help ferment positive development. Ms. Galifinakis at first appears to be much like the parents and teachers (sticklers for good behavior), but eventually has a dramatic turnabout and becomes a substantially “cooler” figure.
The story’s plot presents a fair bit of drama/comedy. However, a closer reading also provides a much darker side to the story. From a certain perspective, Zoey (and her siblings) are mistreated. Much of the story centers on the potentially detrimental punishments doled out to Zoey and her siblings.
For example, at the beginning of the book, Zoey and Zelena are subjected to wearing tight bracelets that are engraved with their names and are only removable with a key (which is held by their mother) and which will not be removed for five months. Zoey is also frequently sent to bed without dinner. At various times, she anticipates this punishment and attempts to consume more food for lunch in compensation.
Such treatments could be considered more abusive than humorous. They also convey the potentially narrow focus of the adults in Zoey’s life who are seemingly most concerned with teaching her a lesson at any cost. This could be a cautionary tale in its own way to caregivers, but that point is not made clear.
Overall, Zoey’s Zany Life is an easy-reading story about a girl trying to survive to the end of sixth grade. Beneath a plot laden with some humor, Zoey’s Zany Life contains life lessons applicable to pre-teens.
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