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Zero by Tom Leveen


by Tom Leveen

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I thought I had this book pegged by the cover, which is so punk rock and artsy. I made some snap judgments about the book, thinking it would be a little dark and gritty for my taste. And while there is a fair amount of art and punk in the book, it is at its core a sweet story about a relationship and finding self worth. As I may have mentioned before though, I am a sucker for YA books about music so I jumped at the chance to check out Zero. Throw in an artistic, self-deprecating new adult protagonist and I was so on board with this one.

Amanda “Zero” Walsh has just received some bad news that rocked her world. She didn’t qualify for a coveted art school scholarship and won’t be able to swing the money on her own. On top of that, things are beyond awkward with her best friend, and her dad’s drinking is spiraling out of control. Life takes an unexpected turn when she meets skate punk drummer Mike, and he helps give her a much-necessary boost of confidence.

Tom Leveen writes a realistic teenage girl character, one who is self-absorbed and a bit whiny, and dealing with lots of family drama. Amanda’s nickname Zero started out as a put-down junior high kids called her because she was the loner art chick. However, it stuck and she decided to own it, and even her own dad calls her Z rather than Amanda, or the dreaded Amy. Amanda has body image issues and low self-esteem and uses humor and sarcasm as a coping mechanism. She is a gifted artist and idolizes Salvador Dali, but she lacks the confidence to take her art to the next level. She has one close friend, Jenn, but they have a mysterious falling out. In a big moment of bravery she approaches the gorgeous-eyed drummer of up and coming band Gothic Rainbow, and they begin a relationship.

Mike the drummer is very crush-worthy, sweet and mature, and his scenes with Amanda spark with electricity. He is not a stereotypical rock-musician type at all, and in case you’re wondering he doesn’t have a Mohawk, as the cover would suggest. Leveen captures the feeling of first love really well, with an awkwardness and obsessiveness that rings true. And even though the two care for each other a lot, they both have a driving passion for their art that demands their attention. Their relationship goes a long way towards helping Amanda’s confidence issues, and takes some interesting and unconventional turns. It is also a more mature relationship, both mentally and physically, than found in most other YA books.

Leveen’s writing has a lot of personality and includes some humorous asides to the reader. He captures the feeling of being at a rock show, with authentic band and song names. Also, Amanda’s passion for her art comes through clearly and she gets lost in her art and makes many artistic references. I liked the feminist leanings of the book too and that the relationship wasn’t the only thing in Amanda and Mike’s lives.

Zero would be a great book for people that enjoy books about new adults, people who don’t fit in, and fans of art, music and romance. ( )
  readingdate | Jan 7, 2014 |
Zero is a nickname that Amanda has had most of her life. As she finishes high school, she's looking forward to perhaps escaping to Chicago to go to art school, but when a scholarship doesn't come through, she is full of self-doubt. A fight on graduation night with her best, and only friend, leaves Zero's summer looking bleak. She decides to start some classes at the local community college and meets a quirky art teacher who gives her some tips and confidence. She also meets a boy, which leads to more art projects for his up and coming band. The summer continues and of course things don't always go smoothly, but Zero finally starts to realize she is more than a zero and can make it on her own. ( )
  TheMadHatters | Apr 30, 2013 |
It's been awhile since I've given a book a 5 star rating, but after careful consideration, I honestly couldn't find anything wrong with the story nor anything I would change. ZERO was the kind of book that once started, I literally couldn't put it down which shocked me. I guess I forgot what that felt like!

Amanda, aka Amy, aka Zero is a recent high school graduate whose plan for a fun summer before going away to the art school of her dreams is shattered. Although she was accepted into the Art Institute of Chicago, she doesn't get the scholarship she so desperately needs due to her portfolio "lacking technical excellence". To add to this devastating news, she has a falling out with her best friend, Jenn. Her parents, while supportive, argue nearly every waking moment, causing Zero to feel creatively stifled. On one particularly bad night, Zero decides to head out to one of her favorite dives called "The Graveyard". And that's when she meets Mike, drummer for one of the opening bands called Gothic Rainbow. Gathering the courage to go up and talk to him is just the beginning of her journey to discovering her self-worth as a young woman and an artist.

I don't know how Tom Leveen did it, but ZERO (the book and the character) feels 100% authentic; I'm still in a bit of shock that he created such a convincing, identifiable female character. The similarities between Zero and I are almost scary. I used to be seriously into art and at one point considered going to art school. I also know what it's like to hang with the guys but never feel pretty enough to actually be with one of them. And as freaky as this may sound, I too, once had a crush on a guy I met at a concert, who just so happened to be a drummer for his own band...and his name was MIKE. Talk about coincidental, right? I also like how Tom Leveen always starts each section with Zero saying, "Here's the thing." We all have our quirky phrases that we say. Like for me, I've been told that when I get serious I frequently say, "You know what??!" Leveen applying this detail really adds to Zero's voice as a character.

If Leveen can write such a great female character then I am not surprised how much I also liked Mike. I think I even fell a little in love with him! Even though Mike had his own set of family and relationship issues (which are somewhat, but not fully revealed), I like that Leveen didn't turn him into the cliche male character that walks around with a chip on his shoulder. You know the kind I'm talking about, the one who is a bit arrogant at first, is sort of mean and aloof and acts like he doesn't have feelings for the main female character, but later shows he has a sensitive side. Nope, that's not Mike. Mike may proceed with caution, but he never puts on a front with Zero. He's sensitive as most artists are (in his case musically) yet remains very realistic as to how the music world works.

I think what I love the most about Mike is how he loves Zero for who she is, faults, insecurities, and all. A perfect example is one of my favorite parts of the book. I need to share this with everyone. Let me set the scene. Mike and Zero are at the beginning stages of dating. She goes over his house and is in his room, waiting for him to finish getting ready so they can head out:

"You look good," [Mike] says casually as he pulls a black T-shirt over his head.
I glance down at myself. Agent Orange T-shirt, cutoffs with my green Dali belt, and my monkey boots.
"Liar," I say.
Mike winces. "Really?"
"I'm sorry, I just meant---"
"Okay, this stops now," he says, and comes over to me. He kicks his door closed, and for the first time I see the cheap full-length mirror nailed to the back.
"What size is that shirt?" he asks, pulling me to stand in front of him so we're both looking in the mirror.
"Large. Obviously."
"Large. I wear a large, and I'm not a big guy. You should be wearing a small. Medium, tops."
"You don't like how I dress?"
"I love how you dress! I'm saying it should fit you."
"Well, I don't feel like advertising my fat ass."
"Your...? Okay, take your belt off."
I do, and wonder why. Does he have tantalizing plans for it?
Mike grabs the waistband of my shorts in one hand and a handful of my T-shirt in the back in the other and pulls them both taut.
"Now look," he says, nodding at the mirror. "That's you. You're swimming in this stuff. You have a kick-ass body." He releases my clothes, and my shorts nearly slip off. I grab them in one hand. "I mean, dress however you want; I still think you're hot no matter what. But it's something to think about. 'Sall I'm sayin'."
Staring at myself, I pull my shorts tight again and study the image. "You mean it?" I ask him.
"I really do."
I let go of my waistband, and my shorts fall to the floor. Mike takes a step back, his eyes widening. Sweet.
"Something to think about?" I say to his reflection in the mirror.
I watch him run a hand over his hair. He can't keep his eyes off me. And I like it. I had no idea I could ever feel this...oh, the hell with it: sexy.

Enough said, right?

Leveen also creates memorable secondary characters. I absolutely loved the guys--Hob, Eddie, Brook-- that make up Mike's band. They really are a fun bunch and embrace Zero. They love her artwork and commission her to do flyers, t-shirts, etc. for Gothic Rainbow. Again, this totally reminds me of my younger years when I used to hang out with my Mike and his band.

It's no secret that Leveen packs a lot of issues that young people experience in this book. Zero's parents are constantly arguing and a part of that is due to her father being an alcoholic. Zero herself suffers from low self-esteem, which also affects her painting and relationships with others. Let's see, other topics/themes you will come across-- abandonment and sexuality issues, using sex as a way to "fill the void", the consequences of unsafe sex, etc. Oh, and did I forget to mention that there is quite a bit of cursing and sexual situations in this book? I'm completely fine with it-- hell, I think it's quite refreshing since, let's face it, young adults, especially in the 17 years and older age group are sexually active! While I enjoy books that go the PG route and try to promote abstinence, I think ZERO is a more realistic portrayal of young adults.

There are quite a few people out there that felt that the book leaves too many issues open ended. Or that Leveen didn't wrap everything up and put a, "and they lived happily ever after" at the end. To be quite frank, for about a day or 2 after reading ZERO, I bounced back and forth between a 4 star rating and a 5 star rating. I did have a few questions that were left unanswered, one being what was Mike trying to say to Zero about his mom after he got back from his "trip"?

But after thinking about it, I actually was okay with the way the book ended. After all, finding self-worth and self-esteem doesn't just happen overnight. Marital issues don't just get better overnight. People aren't just "cured" of alcoholism overnight. Abandonment issues don't just go away overnight. Beginning to trust your best friend again after feeling betrayed doesn't just happen overnight. You get the point? And this may sound crazy...but I can definitely see a sequel happening. Whether the author consciously or subconsciously ended things the way he did, I can totally see Leveen revisiting these characters, maybe when they are in their early 20's. One can dream, right?

Reviewed by: Mia at The Muses Circle ( )
  themusescircle | May 16, 2012 |
This book was a very good read! Set in Phoenix, Arizona the summer after Amanda Walsh's graduation. Amanda, also known as Zero, had her eyes set on going to the School of the Art Institute in Chicago (SAIC) in the fall and having the best summer of her life before then. Zero ends up not having the money for SAIC, her parents are constantly in an argument, and she's not speaking to her best friend.

After a night at the club watching Gothic Rainbow, she meets Mike. The drummer for Gothic Rainbow. They start dating and he gets her thinking about her future. The story is about first loves, best friends, family..... I loved that this book is a book that some can relate to. Maybe not the art aspect, but being young again. ( )
  JeniNicole83 | May 7, 2012 |
By: Tom Leveen
YA Contemporary
April 24, 2012
Rating: I have to give it an R because of the open-door sex scene that happens. Otherwise, it would have only been a strong PG for language
Coffee Beans: 4.5/5
Spoilers: Some, but in order to protect the innocent, character names have been omitted
Favorite Line: Ever notice how much thing guys can eat? So not fair. (ebook, pg 108) When you're painting, you can see noise. Taste sound. Ten trillion neurons fire in your mind and trigger the fine muscles in your arms to do. (ebook, pg 128) Ain't that the truth. Boy howdy, I tell ya, when I decide to make a shit situation shittier, I commit. (ebook, pg 236)
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for this honest review

Publisher's Summary:

For aspiring artist Amanda Walsh, who only half-jokingly goes by the nickname Zero, the summer before college was supposed to be fun—plain and simple. Hanging out with her best friend Jenn, going to clubs, painting, and counting down the days until her escape. But when must-have scholarship money doesn't materialize, and she has a falling out with Jenn that can only be described as majorly awkward, and Zero's parents relationship goes from tense to relentless fighting, her prospects start looking as bleak and surreal as a painting by her idol Salvador Dali. Will life truly imitate art?
Will her new, unexpected relationship with a punk skater boy who seems too good to be real and support from the unlikeliest of sources show Zero that she's so much more than a name.

Here's the thing:

I REALLY pretty much loved this book. Discuss.

Tom Leveen does an epic job of writing this story from a seventeen-year-old girl's perspective (which is actually somewhat unsettling), creating a believable and genuine voice for Zero and a rollercoaster of emotions. It's so good in fact, that it took me a little while to get into it. I know, that sounds a bit conflicting, but I don't know how else to describe it, other than, after a few chapters, I was hooked and couldn't put the book down. The voice is so fluid and natural throughout the entire story. The Conflict artfully constructed,
and all the relationship dynamics unfold so naturally and they have such an organic flow from one to the other, it's like I'm living through high school all over again. And the fact that it's a male author writing from a female's perspective so dang well is impressive. There's also some really fantastic dialogue.

This book is first and foremost about relationships. And how dysfunctional and broken and confusing and wonderful they can be. Tom writes these relationships so realistically; I experienced them right alongside Zero. The betrayal and confusion from a best friend. A first love. The cloudiness about your future and how you thought it was going to unfold. These are all powerful and well executed. When I was shown the relationship between Zero's parents, my heart broke and I was sick to my stomach. The source of the fallout between Zero and her best friend, Jenn, (which the MC tells you about in the beginning so I'm not spoiling anything here) was so completely out of left field, I just kinda sat on the couch saying, "Wow."

Leveen has the typical teenage angst (I hate using that word) and attitude down pat. Everything Zero says and does and how she reacts towards her parents is spot on. I kept nodding and laughing as I was reading, recognizing myself in some of those scenes (sorry mom for being the typical teenager and all that grey hair I'm now convinced is my fault).

And the author's funny. Zero's inner dialogue had me laughing out loud. The cynicism and sarcasm and humor is well-placed and well done. The plot is engaging and fast moving (only a few days to read the book), and so REALISTIC (I can't say that enough about this novel) I really did find myself sucked in, wanting to know how Zero's story would turn out.

There was only one thing I didn't care for: a scene between two characters that took place the parking lot of a coffee shop (you can pretty much guess where I'm going with this).

Here's the thing:

YA books are awesome on so many levels and for so many reasons. Discuss.

They're stories filled with characters discovering the world, love, hurt, pain, yada-yada-yada. YA books are able to broach topics that would otherwise be iffy or off limits in other genres, but we just barrel in, full steam ahead. Many books deal with drugs and alcohol and abuse. And sex (because, let's get real here, people, kids are experimenting and discovering that, too). Pretty much anything goes in YA.

But there's one rule, and it's a consensus with pretty much every literary agent, author, and publisher I've talked to: sex is okay to have in YA novels as long as it's behind closed doors. What does that mean? It means the reader knows what's happening but the author isn't taking us through the act with the MC. They typically take us up to the point of no return and then shut the door. Leave the rest up to the imagination (And I say typically, knowing there are some books out there that don't do that, Breaking Dawn, for example).

This book didn't do that, and it was somewhat disappointing for me. I'll say this—it didn't feel awkward or dirty or anything like that when the scene came about, it was a naturally progressing plot point, but it still was like—whoa. Um…pretty sure that door should have closed a long time ago. Don't get me wrong, it's an event that needed to happen because it's the foundation of several events, actions, feelings, and outcomes for the rest of the book. But that doesn't mean I had to be in the car with them, whistling awkwardly as I stared out the window, pretending I wasn't actually there while this was going on.

That's the only "negative" comment I have to say about the book.

Overall, I REALLY liked it. It was a great story about characters that were made real from the very beginning and about the everyday relationships in our lives.

Pick it up, read it, and decide for yourself, but I have a strong feeling you'll love it as much as I did. I will for sure be picking up Tom's first novel, Party.

Happy reading, my friends! ( )
  RaeLynn_Fry | Apr 30, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375869212, Hardcover)

For aspiring artist Amanda Walsh, who only half-jokingly goes by the nickname Zero, the summer before college was supposed to be fun—plain and simple. Hanging out with her best friend Jenn, going to clubs, painting, and counting down the days until her escape. But when must-have scholarship money doesn't materialize, and she has a falling out with Jenn that can only be described as majorly awkward, and Zero's parents relationship goes from tense to relentless fighting, her prospects start looking as bleak and surreal as a painting by her idol Salvador Dali. Will life truly imitate art? Will her new, unexpected relationship with a punk skater boy who seems too good to be real and support from the unlikeliest of sources show Zero that she's so much more than a name.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:36:19 -0400)

After graduating from a Phoenix, Arizona, high school, aspiring artist Amanda "Zero" Walsh unexpectedly begins a relationship with a drummer in a punk rock band, which helps her come to terms with her feelings about herself, her falling out with her best friend, and her parents' personal problems.… (more)

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