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Zen and Gone

Review

Zen and Gone

Emily France’s sophomore novel, ZEN AND GONE, is a multi-perspective story that looks to explore the relations we share with each other and the world around us. At 17 years old, Essence McKree has learned to become a mother figure to her younger sister, Puck. With weed legalized in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado, Essence’s mother spends much of her time high, obtaining marijuana from the pot shop where she works. This reality forces Essa to live a very strict lifestyle --- no drinking, no drugs and certainly no dating --- until Oliver from Chicago shows up in Boulder for the summer. In order to introduce Oliver to life in her small town, Essa takes him along on a three-day survival game in the Rocky Mountains. To Essa’s horror, Puck has stowed away and joined them on their adventure. After spending the night in the mountains stuck in a storm, Essa awakes to realize that Puck is missing. It is now up to her to find her sister and save her life.

"ZEN AND GONE contains one of the best crafted romances in a YA contemporary that I have read in a very long time….Emily France [breaks] boundaries in the YA genre by telling real and honest stories that easily get overshadowed."

I absolutely adore Emily France’s novels because they look to discuss topics unexplored within the young adult genre in a fascinating and unique manner. ZEN and GONE dives deeply into the culture and spirituality of Buddhism, which plays prominently into the development of Essence’s character. I love the way that France uses key tenets of Buddhism to tie into the overall plot of the story and the key message she wants to send to the audience. Although I cannot speak to its representation because I have very little prior knowledge on the subject, I found it incredibly fascinating to find out about certain facets of the religion and culture of Buddhism. I feel that there is the stereotype of modern Buddhists being very hippy and far gone, which causes the actual culture to be easily judged or overlooked. By reading this novel, I had a new appreciation for Buddhism. France explores the manner in which Buddhism and its customs tie together Essence and Puck. The two characters share a deep connection because of their Buddhist faith. In examining that depiction, I hope that this novel will allow readers to be able to have a new perspective on the topic.

The usage of marijuana also factors deeply into the plotline, as many of the people Essence surround herself with use the substance. Initially, I was really nervous to see how the drug would factor into the narrative that France wanted to craft. By the end of the story, I was thoroughly pleased with the direction that she took. France makes it clear to the audience that marijuana usage did not solve any of the character’s problems, but rather made them worse. Drug usage is a very serious topic. Many young adult novels fail to address their harmful consequences or even fall into the trope of making drug usage appear “cool.” France uses ZEN AND GONE to break those stereotypes and present an honest depiction of drug usage in society, exploring how it damages the relationships users have with their loved ones.

I found it so fascinating to see the parallels in Oliver’s and Essa’s character arcs in this story despite their inherent differences. Oliver comes from a big city, which makes his visit to Boulder initially jarring. He has to adjust to living in a small town that is very different from his own. He appears pompous to Essa when they first meet because of his initial shock at taking in the culture of Boulder. As a fellow Chicagoan, I can completely understand where Oliver is coming from and would likely have a similar reaction myself. Even though their first meeting is rather awkward, Essa and Oliver start to bond over their mutual care and concern for their sisters. Essa feels a responsibility to be a parental figure to her nine-year-old sister. Oliver feels a need to placate his older sister who suffers from schizophrenia. Both Oliver and Essa have this compulsion to be there for their siblings even if it means putting their own well-being to the wayside. This trait draws the two together in a beautiful way.

I believe that ZEN AND GONE contains one of the best crafted romances in a YA contemporary that I have read in a very long time. Essa opens up to Oliver in a way that she never has with anyone else before. She is raw, honest, and vulnerable with him. In behaving in this way, Oliver is able to become more open-minded. He takes in the city of Boulder through Essa’s eyes and finds himself deeply enriched in a lifestyle that he would have once glanced over without a second thought. The relationship Essa and Oliver share is natural and genuine. By opening up to each other over a shared circumstance, Essa and Oliver become better people than they were prior to their meeting. Although this novel does not solely center on Essa and Oliver’s romance, I believe that it is worth reading to be able to take in the mastery in which Emily France develops their characters.

After reading France’s first novel SIGNS OF YOU, I became an instant fan of her writing. I am so honored to be able to review her second novel here for you on Teenreads. I am so grateful that authors like Emily France have taken the opportunity to break boundaries in the YA genre by telling real and honest stories that easily get overshadowed. I encourage you to pick up ZEN AND GONE. This story is stunningly crafted and well-executed. I cannot wait to see what Emily France does next, but whatever it may be I know I will be more than ready to get my hands on it.

Reviewed by Gabby B., Teen Board Member on July 10, 2018

Zen and Gone
by Emily France