________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 4 . . . . October 12, 2007


The Invisible Rules of Zoë Lama.

Tish Cohen.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2007.
247 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 978-00-0-638547-9.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Brianne Grant.

***½ /4


I had defused the Raptor and become a schoolyard celebrity all at once.

And I liked it.

“Wow,” said Miss Noonan, the playground monitor, from behind the seesaw. She wormed her way through the crowd of gawking kids and squinted up at me, still at the top of the slide. “You’re like a pint-size Dalai Lama. Bringing freedom and the right to coexist in peace and harmony to the peoples of Allencraft Elementary School.” She shivered and pulled her cardigan sweater tighter around herself. “You’re the Zoë Lama.”

Of course, I had to race straight into the library to look up the word lama. First I spelled it with two l’s and thought Miss Noonan was calling me a “woolly beast of burden.” Naturally, I was a little upset. But then the librarian told me that lama, in some other language, means teacher. It made perfect sense, since these kids really do need guidance.

And so it was. The Zoë Lama was born.

Despite being the smallest seventh grader in school, Zoë commands great respect. In The Invisible Rules of the Zoë Lama, by Tish Cohen, the sparkling character Zoë leads the way through a charming and yet very serious storyline. Dry humour and an almost sarcastic insight into school and family life keep the story light and humorous while dealing with difficult topics.

     Zoë’s invisible or unwritten rules guide the general life of the school. Those who seek her advice and chocolate chips are almost always satisfied with the results they find. The wonderful thing about Zoë is that she truly has the best intentions in mind. Although she may be a bit self-involved and covertly demanding, Zoë does ultimately hope to help those around her. Unfortunately, her unwritten rules and training program do not unfold how she wishes them to, and she briefly finds herself on the outside of the school community. Cohen reinforces the importance of loyalty and friendship as she works through Zoë’s school trouble.

     At home, Zoë is still struggling with the death of her father while also coming to terms with the increasing affect Alzheimer’s is having on her grandma. She does not cope with these losses well. The weight of these issues grows as the story develops, and yet wry humour keeps the brilliance of the Zoë Lama and the story alive. The Invisible Rules of the Zoë Lama is a vibrant and fresh novel that skillfully uses a unique child perspective to explore the complications of relationships.

     Bold print, italics, and occasional doodles add to the fun in reading the novel. It is the type of novel that leaves you feeling invigorated at the end, albeit with a hint of disappointment on leaving the perspective of the Zoë Lama. Brilliant character development, clever use of humour, and a thoughtfully developed storyline make The Invisible Rules of the Zoë Lama a delightful read.

Highly Recommended.

Brianne Grant is a student in the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature at the University of British Columbia, and Executive Councillor-West for IBBY Canada.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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