Review: Zoe Rosenthal Is Not Lawful Good
Zoe Rosenthal Is Not Lawful Good
by Nancy Werlin
Candlewick (imprint of Penguin Random House)
Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Heidi Rabinowitz
Zoe Rosenthal treats herself to a secret visit to Dragon Con to indulge her fandom of (fictional) feminist sci fi TV series Bleeders... secret because her earnest social justice warrior boyfriend would see it as a frivolous waste of time. But Zoe bonds with others who share her passion, and finds her true self as she works with her new friends to save their favorite show from cancellation. As author Nancy Werlin says on Vimeo, it's not so much about what could go wrong as what could go right.
Coverage of Zoe's Jewish identity is minimal yet relevant. Personal and cultural encounters with antisemitism, briefly alluded to, generate in her a determination to do good in the world. "I'm Jewish. I understand what happens in the long term if you don't fight back against hate" (page 207). Unexpectedly, she learns that there are many ways to perform this tikkun olam, including through joyful creativity such as fandom.
Along with Judaism, a variety of diverse identities are skillfully incorporated into this story. Zoe's friends represent nonbinary, asexual, gay, autistic, black, and Asian-American identities, and there's a kind and authentic depiction of nerd identity. They very naturally engage in modern etiquette such as offering their pronouns, and they have deep conversations about the gender politics, social signals, cultural appropriation, and the meaning of life. For this reviewer, spending time with these thoughtful young people was a true pleasure, and geeking out alongside them was a joy.
While not "Jewish enough" for Sydney Taylor recognition, this book provides the validation of seeing Jews integrated into the wider world, and makes a wonderful mirror for nerds of all stripes. Thought-provoking, rollicking, and with a humorous and dramatic growth arc, I highly recommend this book for all readers.
Are you interested in reviewing books for The Sydney Taylor Shmooze? Click here!bookoflifepodcast.com. Heidi is Past President of the Association of Jewish Libraries, and Library Director at Congregation B'nai Israel of Boca Raton, Florida.