Solving Zoe by Barbara Dee is an entertaining look at middle school life through the eyes of Zoe, a 12 year old girl who is in 6th grade at a private gifted school in New York. Zoe follows in the footsteps of her gifted sister who is is the drama queen of the family and usually gets the main parts in the school plays and her brother who is a math Olympiad genius. Zoe is figuring out how she fits in to the school and amongst the other kids including a distancing relationship with her long time best friend Dana. A new friendship develops with a boy new to the school, Lucas. He is different and many of the other kids don't like him. Lucas is a cryptanalyst and is able to decipher ciphers and hieroglyphics. Zoe finds his private notebook and is able to decipher some of the ciphers Lucas has written. This takes the story down a different path in which Zoe in which Lucas challenges her to be real and true to herself. He may go about it in a way that causes Zoe even more trouble at school and with her classmates. Zoe is responsible for pet sitting lizards and she learns that she must follow her own instincts when problems arise. There are many lessons Zoe learns along the way and I like that she learned that being different and not fitting in has its benefits. Zoe learns that it's important to be true to yourself and follow your instincts even when other kids challenge you to be the same as they are so that they will accept you. It takes a lot of maturity and strength to stand up to the "popular" crowd.
Solving Zoe is a wonderful example of middle school fiction at its best. The story is funny, entertaining and the characters are drawn with a depth and complexity that don't make them just superficial characters. The story itself is one that the reader can learn about ciphers and cryptanalysis in which the author presents in an interesting fashion. There are examples throughout the book of ciphers and in the back of the book there is an answer key with explanations and background information. Ms. Dee also includes a list of sources to explore books about codes and ciphers that is a great resource that complements the book.
Make sure to check out Barbara Dee's website, where you can find out more information about Solving Zoe including discussion questions and information about the author.
Barbara recently started a blog as well so stop by and visit Barbara Dee Blogs.
*Thank you to the author for sending me this book.