Tournament of Books Round 3: Zeroes vs. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

In the matchup between Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli and Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld et al, I immediately “zeroed” in on the theme of difference that flows through both books. Both feature characters struggling to appearzeroes “normal,” and differences are something to hide or at least keep to yourself until you’re ready to reveal them on your own terms. When the characters in both books fully embrace their own differences, they triumph.

While sexual identity and superpowers set the protagonists in each story apart from their peers, race does not. Both books feature diverse characters with back stories that show ways that cultures are part of identities. The variety of characters in Zeroes (including an ultra-rich Latino boy, a second generation Nigerian-American girl, and a blind white girl) comes across as very intentional. However, it’s hard to imagine that the teens would ever hang out if their powers hadn’t brought them together – they live very different lives from each other.

Meanwhile, the friendships in Simon’s high school feel natural, being formed around classes and shared interests like drama and soccer. Whiteness is not assumed but rather described, in the same vein that being straight is rejected as the “default” way to be. I particularly appreciate this exchange:

“Okay, and it’s so weird, right, because we have all these ancestors from all over the world, and here we are in Garrett’s living room, and Martin’s ancestors are from Scotland, and I’m sorry, but Leah’s are totally from Ireland.”
“If you say so.”
“And Nick’s are from Israel.”
“Israel?” says Nick, fingers still sliding all over the frets of the guitar. “They’re from Russia.”
So I guess you learn something new every day, because I really thought Jewish people came from Israel.
“Okay, well, I’m English and German, and Abby’s, you know . . .” Oh God, I don’t know anything about Africa, and I don’t know if that makes me racist.
“West African. I think.”
“Exactly. I mean, it’s just the randomness of it. How did we all end up here?”
“Slavery, in my case,” Abby says.
And fucking fuck. I need to shut up. I needed to shut up about five minutes ago.

SimonVS_quote_NEWSimon and the people in his world are well developed and complex; even the ostensible villain is never just a jerk. Simon’s family is warm and solid, and his teachers have inner lives. The voices in the book’s email correspondence sound distinct from each other, and the dialog is generally a joy to read.

Oddly, the voices in Zeroes all sound alike to me, despite that fact that each character was penned by one of the three authors. The teens each have a power and an agenda, but their stories could be richer in emotional detail. And most of the adults in the book are flat caricatures.

Although I’ve loved almost all of Westerfeld’s previous books, and I’ll keep reading the sequels to Zeroes, I’m super excited to read whatever Becky Albertalli writes next. Simon wins the day!


Reviewed by Rachael Bild, Oak Park Public Library


Tournament of Books Round 2: Everything Everything vs. Zeroes

I was excited when I received my bracketzeroes match up. I had heard lots of buzz about Everything, Everything (full disclosure: I wasn’t planning to read it and a coworker had already discussed the ending with me) so I was interested to read it for myself. I knew nearly nothing about Zeroes except my shock it had passed Nimona in the first round of the bracket.

Zeroes is written by three authors: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti. The story rotates between six teens who all have super powers. These teens (Scam, Crash, Flicker, Anonymous, Bellwether, and Mob) aren’t like traditional superheroes. Instead, their powers are ones like bringing down any form of technology (Crash), seeing through other people’s eyes (Flicker), and a voice that speaks whatever to get what it wants (Scam) as a few examples. Scam is stuck in a bank robbery when his voice causes the robbery to go horribly wrong. When questioned at the police station, he calls his fellow Zeroes to help him out even though they had a falling out last summer. Soon, the group becomes mixed in something bigger thanks to Scam’s power.

Everything, Everything is the first novel by Nicola Yoon. The story is about a girl who falls in love with the boy who just moved in next door. The twist? The girl has an incredibly rare disease and must stay inside or risk death. Told from Madeline’s point of view, this book combines drawings, emails, IMs, and other elements to show her life before and after meeting Olly. After seeing a photo of her family in Hawaii before her father and brother died and her illness kept her inside, Maddy decides to chance everything and run off to Hawaii, taking Olly with her.

What a hard decision regareverything everythingding two wonderful (and wonderfully different) books! Only in talking about both stories to my coworker Joanie did I come to a decision. Zeroes will go on to the Elite 8. Why Zeroes? Both books are fast paced with short chapters so they’d be great for reluctant readers (even though Zeroes clocks in at 546 pages). Even though I felt that the characters of Zeroes weren’t completely fleshed out, which I chalked up to being the first book in a series and the danger of telling the story from multiple points of view, the characters that you end up knowing the strongest (Anonymous, Flicker, and Crash) are really fascinating. Madeline in Everything, Everything felt like the perfect girl. Never argumentative, she’s beautiful and smart—only when she falls for Olly does she start opening up and acting more like a ‘typical teenager’, and in doing so becomes more known to the reader and to herself. This makes sense because she’s lived her whole life in her house and has little experience beyond what she reads. Olly, who for a part of the book remains known only through being seen through his bedroom window and IMs, seems more interesting. Hell, I’d fall in love with him too if I saw him give last rites to a Bundt cake. I don’t want to give away twists in either story but elements of Everything, Everything rang a little false for me and I’m a girl who’s a sucker for any romantic story. These are minor quibbles with both books, but I have to find which one is left behind and which one continues. I was content and pleased when I finished Everything, Everything. I read the last portion of Zeroes with my fingers in my mouth, anxious to see who would survive as the action came to a climax. While Zeroes is the start of a series, the book ends completely so the reader isn’t left hanging waiting for character resolutions. Even still, I’m excited to see what happens next for these not quite heroes. For these reasons, Zeroes gets my pick to continue.


Reviewed by Cheryl Gladfelter, Des Plaines Public Library

Tournament of Books Round 1: Nimona vs. Zeroes

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is based upon her web comic, a winner of the Slate Cartoonist Studio Prize for best Web Comic. Quickly we meet a lively, tough, “henimonaroine” named Nimona who appears on the scene ready to kick some butt and become the sidekick to Lord Blackheart, an outcast who is no longer affiliated with the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. (What exactly is that anyway?) However, Lord Blackheart doesn’t want a sidekick or companion despite Nimona’s insistence otherwise and she must prove she can be a valuable ally. In this action-driven narrative, the reader discovers Nimona is a shapeshifter (imagine evolving identities such as wolf, shark, cat, and dragon) determined to join evil Lord Blackheart to bring destruction upon the Institute. The comics are dynamic, bright, colorful and energetic, moving the story along at a rapid pace. At a Science Expo, a mad scientist presents his Anomalous Energy Enhancer that he thinks will change the world. Add this to the mix and you find fantasy and science fiction elements intertwined in this rare battle of evil vs evil. Uncontrolled emotions of anger and despair move the plot along. My big question is “Where is Nimona at the end of the tale?” Will the Institute recover from her destruction and will Lord Blackheart and his foe Goldenloin fight another day? I was entertained, but I wanted more resolution and more back story about these characters.

The second title of this match up is Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld.  Immediately, one is caught up in this suspenseful drama when Ethan, alias Scam, gets mixed up in a drug deal. All he wanted was a ride home! But now he has stolen a car filled with money and he can’t go home. The reader soon discovers that Scam has a super power-a voice inside him says whatever yzeroesou (the listener) want to hear. He is certainly in grave danger. He will need to be rescued by his former friends. (The “voice” tore them apart.) And he isn’t the only one with unusual powers as we soon follow Crash, Flicker, Anonymous, and Bellwether! In alternating chapters, we see the action unfold and follow their struggles.  We meet a sixth teen also blessed or cursed with a super power. As the novel is written from different points of view, it quickly becomes a page turner. Themes include belonging, family issues, self-esteem, and community. There are plenty of contemporary issues that will appeal to teens. “Zeroes” might want to be heroes, but there is a lot at stake and is it worth risking their lives for someone in danger who they don’t even know? I couldn’t put this one down. I was totally hooked from the start.

I vote for Zeroes because I believe it will be a stronger contender in the tournament. I was interested in the interpersonal relations between the characters as much as the exciting adventures. I think teens would be fascinated about the super powers these characters possess. I recognize that Nimona, featuring a comic character portrayed as a shapeshifter, brings a unique story to readers, however I don’t think this story would have as wide an appeal to all readers.


Reviewed by Ruth Anne Mielke, Bartlett Public Library