________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 23. . . .February 16, 2018


Zenn Diagram.

Wendy Brant.
Toronto, ON: KCP Loft/Kids Can Press, 2017.
315 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
ISBN 978-1-77138-792-7.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Kate Longley.

***½ /4



“‘Lucky for you,”, I say, my voice purposefully cocky and light. “I’m awesome at math. Wait till you see. You’re going to. Freak. The freak. Out.”

This makes him smile a little. His pencil stills in his hand.

I clear my throat. “Cosine,” I say, and start to copy a problem onto the paper. “It’s not just something your dad does on loans.” He laughs a little, the pink in his cheeks fades and we get to work.

During our session the surprisingly polite Josh offers me a piece of gum, his pencil when I break mine in my overzealous scribbling and his notebook when I need another piece of paper, but I decline every time. My aversion to touching other people’s things, and other people for that matter, has earned me the unfair reputation of being a germaphobe, but I’m not trying to protect myself from germs. Hell, I’d lick a toilet seat if you promised me a T1-Nspire CX CAS Handheld graphing calculator with full-color display.”


Eva Walker is a self-proclaimed nerd with a thing for trigonometry. What she lacks in the high school popularity department, she makes up with her skills with tutoring the popular guys from the football team. This makes her a star in her own way as her ability to turn around the test results of students having trouble with math seem almost super-human. As it turns out, maybe they are!

      Eva can’t touch anyone without being inundated, if not bowled over, by something she calls “fractals”. This certainly complicates her ability to have a typical teenage experience, including dates, because she can sense whatever stuff is under the surface with one touch, and so she naturally shies away from physical intimacy or even touching others’ belongings. No surprise she names these unique visions for the beautiful fractals discovered by mathematician, Benoît Mandelbrot.

      This interesting subplot related to Eva’s special, but uncomfortable abilities gives Zenn Diagram a uniqueness that helps it stand out from your typical YA romantic drama. But the way these visions hit can be anything but beautiful as is the case the first time Eva touches Zenn’s leather jacket. Zenn is one of her tutees, and he has one of the most intense fractals she’s ever felt. I wanted to see this aspect of Eva explored more deeply or tied more clearly to the plot. While surprising and intriguing, the gift seems to be used as a plot device with no explanation within this contemporary, every-town, suburban setting.

      Eva’s life seems to be orderly and settled. She enjoys hanging out with her bestie Charlotte and their group of nerdy friends, although readers don’t meet many of their fellow nerds as they both develop crushes on different boys outside of this scene early in the story. Just as Charlotte is falling for a popular jock, Josh, Eva also finds herself falling for the mysterious Zenn. Author Wendy Brant has a knack to make readers feel the acuteness of Eva’s loss of her best friend Charlotte to the draw of Josh and his popular friends while, at the same time, readers relate to Eva’s excitement as she pursues her own romantic interest. And Zenn does seem to share an independent and hard-working streak with Eva. But maybe they share something darker? Yes, there are lots of exciting twists here!

      Eva, the older sister of a set of quadruplets, “the quads”, seems to spend an inordinate amount of time helping her adoptive mom wrangle these cute and rambunctious little ones, as well as keeping up her busy tutoring schedule after school, and maintaining her status as a top student. And although it seems she will be a shoe-in to any of her top-choice universities, she finds herself worrying about her parents’ ability to help her pay for school on her dad’s small pastor’s salary and struggling with feeling responsible for her family’s financial well-being. Her main goal, pre-Zenn, is to write her scholarship applications and pursue her dream of learning about what causes her fractals.

      All of these perhaps overly neat and settled corners of her life start to unravel a bit as she begins to focus more on her relationship with Zenn. Eva and Zenn’s equal and honest relationship is great to read in YA. However, while it’s fun to ride Eva’s roller coaster of thoughts and feelings about Zenn, sometimes it can also be uncomfortable. Eva’s character seems to have an awkward fixation with figuring out Zenn’s ethnicity, something which seems to play no important role in the plot. While she never discusses it with him, she carries on an internal dialogue, referring to Zenn’s dark skin, and wondering if he… “has some Native American in him or something”.

      Eva’s witty internal dialogue instigates a fun banter with the reader from the beginning, as do Eva’s first-person narrative and naturally flowing dialogue. What seems to be headed toward romantic comedy territory at first does become much more serious and move toward the Sarah Dessen side of things. Eva’s positive, if somewhat jaded, take on her life and circumstances will give many teen readers someone to root for and relate to. Her independent nature is believable and enjoyable. Although Zenn Diagram does dip into sappy romantic territory, there is always a thread of seriousness. Eva’s self-possessed and strong character continues throughout, with an extra dollop of boy-craziness.

Highly Recommended.

Kate Longley is the Teen Services Librarian at the North Vancouver City Library in North Vancouver, BC.

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