BOOK REVIEW | From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

BOOK REVIEW | From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

Racism, Systemic Racism, Bullying, Incarceration, Off-Screen Murder, Racial Slurs


If you go into this book based on the cover alone, you wouldn’t even think that there was so much more involved in this novel outside of Zoe doing something with writing. Which is funny, because Zoe is not a writer or dreams to become a writer, so it would be a surprise if that’s what you thought going into it. I say that because when I first saw this cover without reading what it was about, that’s exactly what I thought it would be about. I was wrong of course, and this story ended up being so much more complex and intricate than that.

Zoe dreams of being a successful baker with her own business, inspired by seeing Ruby Willow winning the Food Network Kid’s Baking Championship. I would have loved to see Zoe compete on the show in real life, but that’s a conversation for later. She had an amazing birthday party being at Ari’s Cakes, being surrounded by actual industrial kitchen stuff and realizing her dreams in that way, when she ends up getting a birthday letter from her incarcerated father. This is odd to her because she has never received a letter from him before, and even though his letter says that he has sent others, there’s no record of that. At least, not that she could find.

She ends up starting a tentative relationship with Marcus (her father) through letters, written on special stationery paper that says “From the Desk of Zoe Washington” – hence where the title comes from – and she learns more about him and his case. I would say this part of the story is mostly what it’s about, but it doesn’t focus solely on her letters with Marcus.

Zoe finds an opportunity to audition for another Food Network Kid’s Baking Competition, and her mother and stepfather said she could audition IF she successfully completes her summer internship at Ari’s Cakes. She accepts this challenge, and even though the internship doesn’t go exactly as planned, she at least goes through it with grace. You’ll find out more though when you read it, and I hope that she still ends up fulfilling her dreams.

I thought it was really great to see how systemic racism has negative impacts for the Black community, especially Black men. There was a moment where Marcus reflects on the fact that it didn’t seem like anyone in the justice system actually cared about the fact that there was an alibi witness that places him far away from the scene of the crime, and didn’t bother to check on that witness testimony at all. It was insane to me, but not surprising since that happens all the time.

I thought this was a great debut novel, and I’m really glad that there’s another book about Zoe Washington, because she was a great character to get to know. I can’t wait to read that one and see how much she’s grown since the last time we saw her. I’m glad that I got to finally read this novel, and I’m hoping I can present it for consideration for my upcoming project.

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