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From the Desk of Zoe Washington

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Zoe Washington isnt sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father shes never met, hadnt heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and whos been in prison for a terrible crime? A crime he says he never committed. Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime? A crime he says he never committed. Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.


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Zoe Washington isnt sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father shes never met, hadnt heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and whos been in prison for a terrible crime? A crime he says he never committed. Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime? A crime he says he never committed. Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.

30 review for From the Desk of Zoe Washington

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Baker

    A heartwarming and charming story narrated by the talented Bahni Turpin! A must-read for anyone who enjoys middle grade novels. It'll bring you tears of joy.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tanya

    I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to read this pitch perfect debut, by Janae Marks. Zoe is the kind of protagonist I love in middle grade booksambitious, curious, strongwhat I would describe as a take-charge kinda gal. She loves baking, which, hello, makes her the kind of kid I would have loved to be friends with in middle school. Not only does she love to bake, but she dreams of joining a junior baking competition, so that one day she can become a professional pastry chef. But her I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to read this pitch perfect debut, by Janae Marks. Zoe is the kind of protagonist I love in middle grade books—ambitious, curious, strong—what I would describe as a take-charge kinda gal. She loves baking, which, hello, makes her the kind of kid I would have loved to be friends with in middle school. Not only does she love to bake, but she dreams of joining a junior baking competition, so that one day she can become a professional pastry chef. But her dreams get placed on the back burner when she discovers a letter in her mailbox from her biological father, who has been convicted of murder. At first, she doesn't want to have anything to do with him. But her curiosity starts gnawing on her, so she decides to write him back. That letter is the first of many, and as she gets to know him, she discovers that he's been wrongly convicted. Zoe makes it her mission, to find the evidence needed to set her biological father free. In the process, we get to know other members of her family, especially her grandmother, who is sympathetic to her plight, as well as her neighbor and friend, Trevor, who she enlists to help her. While reading, I found myself cheering Zoe on, as she investigated the crime, and also in her quest to create her very own original cupcake recipe, which by the way, sounds totally delicious. I know my own kid would love to gobble up a Fruit Loops cereal cupcake. If you love headstrong middle grade protagonists, contemporary stories dealing with real-life issues such as racism, wrongful conviction, mixed race blended families, and anything to do with baking, then I would definitely recommend you pick up, FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kate O'Shaughnessy

    Wow. Wow. I LOVED this book! Budding 12-year-old pastry chef Zoe Washington receives a letter on her birthday from her incarcerated father, Marcus... and it's the first time she's ever heard from him. He's in jail for a violent crime, but as Zoe continues to correspond with him, she starts to wonder if he might actually be innocent after all. This book is about love, the highs and lows of friendship, baking (be ready to have intense cupcake cravings), complex family relationships, and the Wow. Wow. I LOVED this book! Budding 12-year-old pastry chef Zoe Washington receives a letter on her birthday from her incarcerated father, Marcus... and it's the first time she's ever heard from him. He's in jail for a violent crime, but as Zoe continues to correspond with him, she starts to wonder if he might actually be innocent after all. This book is about love, the highs and lows of friendship, baking (be ready to have intense cupcake cravings), complex family relationships, and the importance of taking a stand. The masterful way the author weaves in themes of social justice throughout Zoe's very personal journey will allow kids to come to conclusions about racism within our judicial and prison systems *themselves,* which is a powerful tool to give a child. Zoe is such an proactive protagonist, and I can see kids reading this in classrooms across the country, galvanized to take a stand--because Zoe shows us that you're never too young to make a big difference. 5/5 stars!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Yingling

    E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus Zoe lives in Boston with her mother and stepfather. Her best friend, Trevor, lives next door, but as summer starts, Zoe is still smarting from comments she heard Trevor make to his sporty friends about her, so she doesn't want to hang out with him. Luckily, her mother has a friend who runs a bakery, and Zoe has the opportunity to spend time there honing her skills so she can try out for a kids' version of a baking reality show. Unfortunately, she spends more of E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus Zoe lives in Boston with her mother and stepfather. Her best friend, Trevor, lives next door, but as summer starts, Zoe is still smarting from comments she heard Trevor make to his sporty friends about her, so she doesn't want to hang out with him. Luckily, her mother has a friend who runs a bakery, and Zoe has the opportunity to spend time there honing her skills so she can try out for a kids' version of a baking reality show. Unfortunately, she spends more of her time folding boxes than scooping batter, since the other workers don't trust a kid. When a letter arrives for her and turns out to be from the father she has never met because he is in prison, Zoe is curious and writes back. Her father seems very nice, and she slowly gets some more information about the murder he is accused of committing. Sure that her father is telling the truth that he didn't do it, she starts to investigate some leads, going with Trevor to find a women who remembers meeting him when she posted an ad on Craigslist. Her grandmother has been helping Zoe get the letters, but eventually the two have to come clean to her mom. Armed with her evidence, the family goes to Project Innocence to try to get her father released. Strengths: My readers will be very happy to find a book about an African American girl who is solidly middle class. I've been looking for books like this for years, and have been glad to see titles like Love Like Sky, Blended, and Some Places More than Others that don't take place in the inner city. Baking books do fairly well, so readers will enjoy trying out some of Zoe's recipes for Froot Loop cupcakes, and the details about having a parent in prison are thought provoking. Weaknesses: Several things seemed far fetched to me, although they won't to younger readers. There are a lot more boy-girl best friends in books than in real life, the internship at the bakery seemed unlikely, although the way Zoe was received was realistic, it was surprising that the grandmother helped her keep information from her parents, and Zoe has a lot of luck in her investigations. What I really think: This has a fantastic cover, so I would purchase it just for that. It's a solid story, and I'll be looking forward to seeing what else Ms. Marks writes, but it didn't knock my socks off the way Front Desk did. (The publisher's description compares it to this.)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Melanie Brinkman

    Sometimes we must tweak the recipe of life to make it right. A letter awaits on Zoe doorstep when she returns home from celebrating her 12th birthday. This is the first time she's heard from her father, Marcus, who's in prison for committing a violent crime. A crime he says he didn't commit. Zoe doesn't how to feel, but the more they correspond, the more she starts to believe him. Is he innocent? Zoe knows she must find out the truth even if it means hiding her investigation from family members Sometimes we must tweak the recipe of life to make it right. A letter awaits on Zoe doorstep when she returns home from celebrating her 12th birthday. This is the first time she's heard from her father, Marcus, who's in prison for committing a violent crime. A crime he says he didn't commit. Zoe doesn't how to feel, but the more they correspond, the more she starts to believe him. Is he innocent? Zoe knows she must find out the truth even if it means hiding her investigation from family members who don't want her to get involved, who just want her focus on her bakery internship. Can she find the perfect recipe for justice? A story of sweet treats and a mission for even sweeter justice. What happens when a surprise letter adds some shocking ingredients into the mix. Trigger warnings for racism, racial slurs, microaggressions, and talk of death. Curious, ambitious Zoe had big dreams. Wether crafting her own delectable desserts through trial and error, or investigating her father's case, the spunky girl passionately pursued her goals. While the internship nor her quest for justice went as she planned, they allowed her to grow up in meaningful ways. Letters to Marcus showed a softer, equally inquisitive side of her that I loved. Zoe was the embodiment of a flawed, but spectacular heroine. From her wise, loving mother and stepfather, to a father she learned to care about deeply about, to a smart, understanding grandmother, to a friend she was on the rocks with, Zoe had a lot of people who cared about her. Deftly drawn, the supporting cast were endearing. Some bonds, like that between Zoe and her parents, felt a bit underdeveloped. Wonderfully representing friendships between different sexes, Zoe's friendship with Trevor was great, but a little to easy given their history. Probably my favorite side character, her supportive Grandma always did what she thought was right. Connecting through secret correspondence, music, and more, Marcus and Zoe changed each others lives in ways that made me happy cry. Grab something yummy (maybe a cupcake... or a few) before you read this, because not only will it fire up and fill your soul, it will awaken your sweet tooth. Infusing the hopes of one young girl into the tension, Janae Marks brought racism, wrongful imprisonment, and the ways it robs many lives of the life they deserve, to an incredibly personal level. Courageous, the themes of family, mending friendships, standing up for what you believe in and forgiving but not forgetting, were smartly imparted. A timely story of baking, bonding, going after your dreams, Zoe's journey pulled on my heartstrings. Perfectly paced, From the Desk of Zoe Washington was hopeful and heartfelt. From the Desk of Zoe Washington shows that you're never too young to make a difference.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Afoma Umesi

    LOVE LOVE LOVE. MORE TO COME. Review on 14/01/20. Thanks to the publisher for an e-ARC of this novel. From the Desk of Zoe Washington is a moving, true-to-life middle-grade novel that highlights just how potent perseverance can be even when youre just twelve. This book is one of those middle-grade novels that tackles issues without taking away the joy of the mundane. Debut author Janae Marks explores parental incarceration, wrongful imprisonment, friendship missteps, and more in this novel. I LOVE LOVE LOVE. MORE TO COME. Review on 14/01/20. Thanks to the publisher for an e-ARC of this novel. From the Desk of Zoe Washington is a moving, true-to-life middle-grade novel that highlights just how potent perseverance can be — even when you’re just twelve. This book is one of those middle-grade novels that tackles issues without taking away the joy of the mundane. Debut author Janae Marks explores parental incarceration, wrongful imprisonment, friendship missteps, and more in this novel. I couldn’t help but think of Alicia D. Williams’s Genesis Begins Again . Zoe jumps off the page as much as Genesis does. I highly — oh so highly — recommend this novel. Read my full review on the blog.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Janae Marks

    Thank you so much to everyone for reading and reviewing my book! I'm so proud of this story. If you are interested, there are some book extras on my website, including a Spotify playlist featuring all of the songs mentioned in the book, a book club discussion guide, a teacher's guide for using the book to teach about criminal justice, and a Froot Loop cupcake recipe. You can find them here: http://www.janaemarks.com/book-extras.... Enjoy!! ~Janae Marks

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

    Every now and then, I read a middle grade book that is engaging, well-written, and fun to read, AND deals with issues so unique and important that I wish I could shove it into the hands of everyone I know. FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON is exactly that kind of book. Much of Zoe's life is pretty normalshe loves to bake and is thrilled to land a summer internship at a real bakery; she's on the outs with her best friend after an incident earlier in the summer; she longs for more responsibility and Every now and then, I read a middle grade book that is engaging, well-written, and fun to read, AND deals with issues so unique and important that I wish I could shove it into the hands of everyone I know. FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON is exactly that kind of book. Much of Zoe's life is pretty normal—she loves to bake and is thrilled to land a summer internship at a real bakery; she's on the outs with her best friend after an incident earlier in the summer; she longs for more responsibility and freedom now that she's twelve years old. But one thing about Zoe's life is very, very different from most middle grade characters: Zoe's biological father, Marcus, has spent twelve years in prison for murder. And on her twelfth birthday, Zoe gets a letter from him—and with that letter, realizes just how much more there is to Marcus's story than she has ever known. Mass incarceration of Black and brown men, and wrongful convictions, are issues that are extremely relevant in the U.S. right now. FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON takes these topics on with grace, courage, and an enormous amount of compassion. Janae Marks deftly adds layer after layer of nuance to Marcus's case, as well as to his relationship with Zoe; the book tackles big issues without ever feeling either heavy-handed or depressing. Zoe's irrepressible spirit and determination to get to the bottom of Marcus's story is inspiring and uplifting. FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON is an absolutely perfect way to introduce the issue of mass incarceration to young readers. Five enthusiastic stars!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Arianne Costner

    Loved this one! Zoe is a great, strong character with a spot-on voice. The pacing kept me turning pages the whole time. There is a lot of intrigue to keep the reader interested. The way her relationship develops with her dad is so sweet, and the ending is really satisfying. Grandma mightve been my favorite character 😁 Also, the food descriptions were scrumptious. Can someone please make me a fruit loops cupcake? Loved this one! Zoe is a great, strong character with a spot-on voice. The pacing kept me turning pages the whole time. There is a lot of intrigue to keep the reader interested. The way her relationship develops with her dad is so sweet, and the ending is really satisfying. Grandma might’ve been my favorite character 😁 Also, the food descriptions were scrumptious. Can someone please make me a fruit loops cupcake?

  10. 5 out of 5

    Becca

    On Zoes 12th birthday, she receives a letter from her biological father Marcus, whos been in prison her whole life. Shocked but curious, she writes him back. What follows is a summer filled with baking, friendship, and some hardhitting messages about the criminal justice system. Marks tackles a lot: idealized career aspirations, conflict in friendships, how limiting it is to see the world in absolutes. But most importantly, she explores the suffering caused by wrongful conviction. She discusses On Zoe’s 12th birthday, she receives a letter from her biological father Marcus, who’s been in prison her whole life. Shocked but curious, she writes him back. What follows is a summer filled with baking, friendship, and some hardhitting messages about the criminal justice system. Marks tackles a lot: idealized career aspirations, conflict in friendships, how limiting it is to see the world in absolutes. But most importantly, she explores the suffering caused by wrongful conviction. She discusses how racism and classism remove opportunities for thorough legal counsel and lessen likelihood of sympathetic judges and jurors. She shows how innocent people end up forever held accountable for things they never did. From the Desk of Zoe Washington is a unique, compassionate, altogether stunning debut. Its depiction of institutional racism in America is comparable to The Hate U Give (albeit less depressing because it’s written for a younger audience), and I’d love to see it gain similar acclaim. I’d recommend this to fans of Front Desk and Breakout.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anuradha Rajurkar

    I read an early copy of this powerful debut, and I can't recommend it highly enough! The writing is clear and impactful, the characterization is pitch-perfect, and both plotting and premise make for a captivating read. I am blown away by this story. Middle-school protagonist Zoe lives happily with her mother and stepfather, loves to bake, and dreams of being on a kids baking competition show. On her twelfth birthday, she receives a letter in the mail from Marcus, the biological father she's never I read an early copy of this powerful debut, and I can't recommend it highly enough! The writing is clear and impactful, the characterization is pitch-perfect, and both plotting and premise make for a captivating read. I am blown away by this story. Middle-school protagonist Zoe lives happily with her mother and stepfather, loves to bake, and dreams of being on a kids baking competition show. On her twelfth birthday, she receives a letter in the mail from Marcus, the biological father she's never met, who is in prison for a crime Zoe knows almost nothing about. Intrigued, she begins secretly corresponding with Marcus, and over time, learns that the crime Marcus is in prison for is worse than she imagined. To top it off: he may be innocent of the crime. Zoe is an unforgettable character who is thoughtful, clever, strong, and determined as she secretly begins investigating the details leading up to Marcus's arrest all those years ago. The letters written between Zoe and Marcus are an awesome vehicle for their growing relationship while creating tension throughout. I also appreciated the character nuances of Zoe’s grandmother, who serves as constant support to Zoe. Mid-story, Zoe and a friend travel to meet someone who might serve as an alibi for Marcus, providing an interesting new setting while keeping things pacey. Zoe’s passion for baking throughout serves as a beautiful, impactful metaphor, and the resolution with Marcus, Zoe’s family, and Zoe's friendships is surprising, heartfelt and satisfying. So many important themes were handled with utmost respect and honesty: family, the desire to learn about one’s biological parent, wrongful imprisonment, racism, friendship, taking a stand, and so much more. I was riveted by this important book and can’t wait to watch it soar!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Darla

    Zoe Washington just turned twelve and she has big plans. She wants to be on a kid's baking show, publish her own cookbook, and become a famous pastry chef. An internship at a local bakery will give her opportunities to work toward those aspirations. When a letter addressed to her from her bio dad appears in the mail on her birthday, she channels some of that energy in another direction -- proving her dad is innocent despite his conviction as a murderer before she was born. What this book does Zoe Washington just turned twelve and she has big plans. She wants to be on a kid's baking show, publish her own cookbook, and become a famous pastry chef. An internship at a local bakery will give her opportunities to work toward those aspirations. When a letter addressed to her from her bio dad appears in the mail on her birthday, she channels some of that energy in another direction -- proving her dad is innocent despite his conviction as a murderer before she was born. What this book does very well is show kids the hard work it takes to be successful in a business like a bakery. Zoe does a lot of tinkering to develop her own special cupcake recipe in the book. Another aspect that is covered appropriately for middle grades is the issue of wrongful convictions and the efforts being made on their behalf by the Innocence Project (John Grisham's new title "The Guardians" does a great job covering this issue for adults, BTW). What I found to be disappointing was the offhand way that the author informs kids about the Black Lives Matter movement. As a police officer's wife I find the following quote to be inflammatory and insufficient: "I knew about the Black Lives Matter movement, how Black people all over the country were getting shot by police for no good reason. If those police officers weren't going to jail, then it made sense that the whole prison system was messed up." If I knew this were not in the final edition, I would award another star. Thank you to Katherine Tegen Books and Edelweiss for a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kim Johnson

    Fabulously written and such a heart warming story. I was fortunate to have an advanced readers copy and just fell in love with Zoe and her dreams of being a pastry chef. Zoe finally receives a letter from her father for the first time who is incarcerated for a violent crime. The writer carefully crafted a heart warming story that is very approachable to the middle grade age and is much more hopeful and heartfelt than you might assume. Zoe is a full blown character who is spunky, determined, and Fabulously written and such a heart warming story. I was fortunate to have an advanced readers copy and just fell in love with Zoe and her dreams of being a pastry chef. Zoe finally receives a letter from her father for the first time who is incarcerated for a violent crime. The writer carefully crafted a heart warming story that is very approachable to the middle grade age and is much more hopeful and heartfelt than you might assume. Zoe is a full blown character who is spunky, determined, and has big dreams about becoming a pastry chef. Reader be weary that it might induce cravings for cupcakes and baked goods, but it's also what makes the story delightful and inspiring for young readers to think about taking on your dreams. Throughout Zoe's journey of having an internship at a bakery, the story grounds itself in what an amazing kid Zoe is, and wonder about her life having never met her father. When she receives her letter from her father and begins to communicate with him regularly it allows the reader to experience the hope, the doubt, the million questions that would flutter to a young person interacting with their father for the first time. Really sweat moments as Zoe learns more about her fathers love for her and his claim of innocence. This is a story that leaves a reader with hope and happiness. A must read!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cathleen Barnhart

    Janae Marks wonderful debut is an important and timely novel about systemic racism in the U.S that will engage middle school readers and have them both rooting for the main character, Zoe Washington, and questioning this countrys system of mass incarceration. Middle schoolers will relate to Zoe: she has dreams and goals; shes currently not speaking to her best friend, Trevor, because he said something really mean about her; and she loves her parents but doesnt always agree with them. On her Janae Marks’ wonderful debut is an important and timely novel about systemic racism in the U.S that will engage middle school readers and have them both rooting for the main character, Zoe Washington, and questioning this country’s system of mass incarceration. Middle schoolers will relate to Zoe: she has dreams and goals; she’s currently not speaking to her best friend, Trevor, because he said something really mean about her; and she loves her parents but doesn’t always agree with them. On her twelfth birthday, Zoe gets a letter in the mail from the biological dad she’s never met because h’e in prison for murder, a murder he says he didn’t commit. As Zoe begins a secret correspondence with her dad, she’s also trying to repair her friendship, make a good impression at her bakery internship and maybe win a spot in a national baking competition. . This novel should be in every middle school library and classroom. If it’s not on your Goodreads tbr list, add it!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Briana

    Zoe is so inspiring, determined, and full of heart. I loved how this book balanced deep and sweet relationships with the very real and important issues surrounding wrongful convictions - and that PoC are vastly more likely to be wrongfully convicted and abused by the justice system. Zoe's story not only brings light to the issue, but will empower young readers to make the changes they want to see in the world.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Josephine

    The story is a bit unrealistic but nevertheless I enjoyed every word. Here fairy tales do come true. 12 year old Zoe is a remarkable 12 year old. She knows what she wants and goes after it head long! On her 12th birthday, she receives a surprising piece of mail postmarked from a prison. It is from her incarcerated father, (Marcus), whom shes never met. He was sent to prison for murder just before Zoe was born. And as you may guess her mother wants her to have nothing to do with him. Zoe has two The story is a bit unrealistic but nevertheless I enjoyed every word. Here fairy tales do come true. 12 year old Zoe is a remarkable 12 year old. She knows what she wants and goes after it head long! On her 12th birthday, she receives a surprising piece of mail postmarked from a prison. It is from her incarcerated father, (Marcus), whom she’s never met. He was sent to prison for murder just before Zoe was born. And as you may guess her mother wants her to have nothing to do with him. Zoe has two goals... one is to prove her father’s innocence and two, as an aspiring pastry chef, she sets her sights on perfecting her baking skills. She plans to audition as a contestant on Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. After receiving the letter from her father, Zoe does something she has never done before, she begins Withholding the truth from her mother in order to correspond with her biological father. As it always does, and one lie leads to another and another. In the letters Marcus shares his favorite songs and encourages Zoe’s baking-competition dreams. “He seems really nice!” Then, when Marcus proclaims he is innocent, Zoe is shocked: How could someone who is innocent end up in prison? This was a realistic reaction for a 12 year old. Somehow Zoe has convinced her grandmother, (her mother’s mother), to help carry on the secret correspondence with her father. She even arranges phone communication between Zoe and Marcus. As Zoe’s enlightenment begins, she learns about systemic racism and how black people like her and Marcus are more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder than white people. There are some well developed and powerful relationships among all the characters: Zoe, her mother, her step dad, grandma, Marcus, and best friend Trevor. This debut novel is extraordinary, timely, and a must-read story about love, family, friendship, and justice. (Fiction. 8-12)

  17. 4 out of 5

    Shaunterria

    [Gr. 6-8] This exceptionally sweet debut from Marks illustrates profound cracks in the American criminal justice system while telling an affecting story grounded in middle grade ethos. Zoe Washington, a soon-to-be seventh grader growing up outside Boston, is celebrating a birthday bereft of friends due distance and betrayal when a surprise letter from her incarcerated father arrives and throws her life into emotional disarray. The clandestine correspondence they strike up, letters and a few [Gr. 6-8] This exceptionally sweet debut from Marks illustrates profound cracks in the American criminal justice system while telling an affecting story grounded in middle grade ethos. Zoe Washington, a soon-to-be seventh grader growing up outside Boston, is celebrating a birthday bereft of friends due distance and betrayal when a surprise letter from her incarcerated father arrives and throws her life into emotional disarray. The clandestine correspondence they strike up, letters and a few phone calls facilitated by her maternal grandmother, has to be kept a secret from her mother, especially once Zoe decides to investigate whether her father is truly guilty of the dreadful crime that sent him to prison before she was born. Marks tells this story of forgiveness and redemption in a way that will make sense to tween readers without being patronizing or overly complicated. The problematical ways in which race affects the characters – Zoe, who is black, is subjected to microaggressions when out in public with her white stepfather and black mother, and questions about whether her father would have been treated differently if he looked less like “typical” suspect, will facilitate important conversations about racial profiling and incarceration rates for people of color. Fortunately, Marks’ capable storytelling and engaging characters also combine into a wondrous confection of a book, full of heart and hope and promise.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ms. Woc Reader

    I wasn't really sure what to expect with this story when I requested it. The cover was striking and it caught my eye right away. I also liked that it featured a bit of mystery in synopsis. Incarceration of innocent black men is a tough topic to tackle. It's an important conversation that we need to have but often people just don't want to hear. I think black readers are often bombarded with this news on a daily basis that it wears on them. This book was different because Marcus being in prison I wasn't really sure what to expect with this story when I requested it. The cover was striking and it caught my eye right away. I also liked that it featured a bit of mystery in synopsis. Incarceration of innocent black men is a tough topic to tackle. It's an important conversation that we need to have but often people just don't want to hear. I think black readers are often bombarded with this news on a daily basis that it wears on them. This book was different because Marcus being in prison wasn't the sole focus. Zoe had hopes, dreams, and a life outside of just helping this new father she was learning about. There was a great balance between Zoe working on her cupcake recipes and wanting to do more at the bakeshop. She also is reconnecting with her friend Trevor who she fell out with during the school year. Overall I think this book was a great introduction to young readers to the Innocence Project and let's them know that you are never to young to make a difference. I received an arc from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Shannon Doleski

    Oh I got to read this book before its release date, and it is lovely, lovely, lovely. This book is two books in one - it is both a fun, sweet story of a girl who takes charge of her baking dream and a necessary, tough look at our justice system. Marks balances both expertly. Zoe is a little force and a terrific middle grade narrator. I loved her best when she was defying her parents. I think readers will too ;) Listen you might be tempted to eat all the sweets while you read. And it's got a Oh I got to read this book before its release date, and it is lovely, lovely, lovely. This book is two books in one - it is both a fun, sweet story of a girl who takes charge of her baking dream and a necessary, tough look at our justice system. Marks balances both expertly. Zoe is a little force and a terrific middle grade narrator. I loved her best when she was defying her parents. I think readers will too ;) Listen you might be tempted to eat all the sweets while you read. And it's got a banging soundtrack.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laura (bbliophile)

    I enjoyed this one a lot! Full review to come.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    So sweet and lovely. My 9yo says this is in her top 2 😍

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rajiv

    I absolutely loved reading this book! It was fun, intriguing, emotional, and one of those books that a reader of any age would enjoy. The author has wonderfully made the character tackle so many issues for a middle grade novel. Zoe is awesome as the protagonist and comes across as a creative, sensitive, yet strong person. She always wants to reach out and help others no matter how difficult the situation is. I loved Trevors character as well because he tries to help Zoe even when she was angry I absolutely loved reading this book! It was fun, intriguing, emotional, and one of those books that a reader of any age would enjoy. The author has wonderfully made the character tackle so many issues for a middle grade novel. Zoe is awesome as the protagonist and comes across as a creative, sensitive, yet strong person. She always wants to reach out and help others no matter how difficult the situation is. I loved Trevor’s character as well because he tries to help Zoe even when she was angry with him. Both of them share a wonderful friendship that is fun and inspiring. In fact, I liked all the character, including Marcus, Zoe’s mom and Dad and her Grandma as well. I loved the bond that Zoe shared with her Grandma. The author, Janae Marks, has done a fabulous job for a debut middle grade novel and I was engrossed throughout. She writes in a simple yet engaging manner, and manages to cover a wide range of topics like racism and what happens if someone is wrongfully accused. These are very serious topics which I think she handled very well in this charming tale of family ties. I didn’t even know something like the Innocence Project existed till I read this book. The only downside I found was on how quickly Zoe and Trevor were able to track down Susan Thomas. It felt a bit unbelievable that they were able to find her quite easily. But, I guess the author had to keep in pace with the story and not stretch with the details. Speaking of which, I really loved the adventure that Zoe and Trevor have when they sneak into the city and ride the train to meet her without telling their parents. I also loved the whole cooking angle with the ‘Bake Challenge’ in the first half of the book, but I felt that it suddenly stopped in the middle when the story shifted focus to Marcus primarily. It would have been interesting to see what had happened if Zoe did enter the challenge. Lastly, I really liked the how the author plugged in song references like Boys II Men and Stevie Wonder, and smiled on how Zoe got the nickname Little Tomato. Overall, I loved reading “From the Desk of Zoe Washington” and cannot wait to read similar works from the author in the future.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Francesca Flores

    This book was so incredible! Zoe has such a strong voice that pulls you in and makes you want to know more about her-the passion she has for baking, her love for her family, and of course, the new emotions she experiences upon receiving a letter from her father, who's in prison. The emotion during the scenes where she read and wrote these letters just leapt off the page, and some of these scenes definitely made me tear up. Her dad's love for her and longing to be in her life were so strongly This book was so incredible! Zoe has such a strong voice that pulls you in and makes you want to know more about her-the passion she has for baking, her love for her family, and of course, the new emotions she experiences upon receiving a letter from her father, who's in prison. The emotion during the scenes where she read and wrote these letters just leapt off the page, and some of these scenes definitely made me tear up. Her dad's love for her and longing to be in her life were so strongly present in the letters. It was very powerful seeing Zoe realize, on the page, how her father might be innocent, how racism infects the criminal justice system, and how SHE could make a change. This is one of my favorite books I've read this year, and I was rooting for Zoe from the very beginning. If that hasn't convinced you, there are drool-worthy descriptions of cupcakes and other goodies all throughout the book. I really want to try the recipe Zoe came up with!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kathie

    Thank you to #Edelweiss+ and Katherine Tegen books for an eARC of this book. FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON is the authors middle grade debut, and what a way kick off her publishing career! I love that Zoe is passionate about baking, and desperately wants to be on the Food Network Kids Bake Challenge (I even made cupcakes inspired by her recipe, and hope there will be a recipe included in the final copy of the book). She even gets an opportunity to intern at a bakery, though its not quite how Thank you to #Edelweiss+ and Katherine Tegen books for an eARC of this book. FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON is the author’s middle grade debut, and what a way kick off her publishing career! I love that Zoe is passionate about baking, and desperately wants to be on the Food Network Kids Bake Challenge (I even made cupcakes inspired by her recipe, and hope there will be a recipe included in the final copy of the book). She even gets an opportunity to intern at a bakery, though it’s not quite how she imagined it would be. She also hasn’t been speaking to her best friend and next door neighbor, Trevor, after she overheard a hurtful comment he made. But when Zoe accidentally discovers a letter that her biological dad, Marcus, wrote to her from prison (where he’s incarcerated for murder) the story takes an unexpected turn. She starts a secret relationship with him, and desperately needs to figure out if he really committed the crime of which he’s accused, which leads to a mystery that made it hard to put this book down. It’s a wonderful combination of the life of an average middle schooler, mixed with some tough topics, but it’s presented in a way that never feels too heavy for young readers to handle. With a stunning cover, and a 5 star story, I predict this will be a very popular book in 2020.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Julianne DeSilva

    I read an advanced reader copy of this book and I LOVED IT. It tackles so many issues, and does so with such poise. Zoe's father, Marcus, has been incarcerated since before she was born, jailed for a crime he says he did not commit. Zoe begins to research the crime, bent on determining if Marcus is telling the truth. I think Janae Marks does an incredible job of tackling such a heavy subject, making Zoe brave, but also vulnerable. I also love that despite all of this heavy subject matter, Zoe is I read an advanced reader copy of this book and I LOVED IT. It tackles so many issues, and does so with such poise. Zoe's father, Marcus, has been incarcerated since before she was born, jailed for a crime he says he did not commit. Zoe begins to research the crime, bent on determining if Marcus is telling the truth. I think Janae Marks does an incredible job of tackling such a heavy subject, making Zoe brave, but also vulnerable. I also love that despite all of this heavy subject matter, Zoe is still just a regular kid. She loves her dog, her grandmother, and baking, and is having trouble with her former best friend, who doesn't seem to understand why Zoe is mad at him. Books like these are so fantastic because they open up middle grade readers' minds to different issues, while still being relatable if the characters might be experiencing something outside of their knowledge. So fantastic!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kaela Noel

    I was lucky to read an advance copy of From the Desk of Zoe Washington. Wow! Brisk, precisely written, with not a word out of placethis is a great and satisfying novel. I particularly loved Zoe's biological dad's character. He felt very real, and Zoe's complicated feelings about him were well handled, as was the involvement of her grandmother. The story deals with serious issues, but also feels somewhat gentle in tone and right for a middle grade audience. I also really love books that include I was lucky to read an advance copy of From the Desk of Zoe Washington. Wow! Brisk, precisely written, with not a word out of place—this is a great and satisfying novel. I particularly loved Zoe's biological dad's character. He felt very real, and Zoe's complicated feelings about him were well handled, as was the involvement of her grandmother. The story deals with serious issues, but also feels somewhat gentle in tone and right for a middle grade audience. I also really love books that include solid knowledge of a craft or skill woven into the plot—and Marks does this flawlessly by including professional-level information on baking. Technical details are not glossed over in the scenes set at the bakery where Zoe gets an internship, and it's assumed middle grade readers are sophisticated enough to appreciate and understand that (which they are!) I really like that.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Book Hunter

    Zoe Washington just turned twelve when a letter arrives for her and it turns out to be from the father she has never met and who is serving time in prison. She decides to secretly write him back... Its good that there is a book that deals with a parent being in prison. However, I am sensitive to the moral fiber in kids books and, in my opinion, this book contains some concerning thread. Nearly every major character in the book was lying repeatedly and it took nearly 250 pages for everyone to Zoe Washington just turned twelve when a letter arrives for her and it turns out to be from the father she has never met and who is serving time in prison. She decides to secretly write him back... It’s good that there is a book that deals with a parent being in prison. However, I am sensitive to the moral fiber in kids books and, in my opinion, this book contains some concerning thread. Nearly every major character in the book was lying repeatedly and it took nearly 250 pages for everyone to come clean. This book missed the mark for me in dealing with lying appropriately.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Katy Upperman

    This was just excellent. I adored Zoe! I loved following her baking journey, and her plight to uncover whether her father was convicted of a murder he didn't commit. Janae's writing is lovely and sophisticated and perfectly suited to middle grade fiction. The way she's crafted Zoe feels very authentic, but a little bit magical, too. The minute I finished FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON, I passed it along to my twelve-year-old daughter. I think she's going to love it as much as I did!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne Nelson

    What a timely, engaging, and tender middle-grade novel! Zoe Washington is a strong protagonist determined to face challenging family and friendship dilemmas without giving up, and she overcomes obstacles that even the adults in the story are having a difficult time facing. Zoes family and friendship issues are realistic, deftly-drawn, and poignant, and her passion for baking adds fun and inventive elements to her story as well. The book is also a platform for some important discussions about What a timely, engaging, and tender middle-grade novel! Zoe Washington is a strong protagonist determined to face challenging family and friendship dilemmas without giving up, and she overcomes obstacles that even the adults in the story are having a difficult time facing. Zoe’s family and friendship issues are realistic, deftly-drawn, and poignant, and her passion for baking adds fun and inventive elements to her story as well. The book is also a platform for some important discussions about some of today’s social and criminal justice issues. I highly recommend it!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Camryn

    I liked this a lot! It seemed almost too sweet sometimes like I felt her friend arc just seemed so predictable and the way Trevor spoke sometimes sounded robotic and like he knew exactly what to say and how to apologize. I also found the parents to be really annoying (except for Marcus.) But I loved how Black it was. I kinda wouldve liked a book with just Marcus and Zoe... I liked this a lot! It seemed almost too sweet sometimes — like I felt her friend arc just seemed so predictable and the way Trevor spoke sometimes sounded robotic and like he knew exactly what to say and how to apologize. I also found the parents to be really annoying (except for Marcus.) But I loved how Black it was. I kinda would’ve liked a book with just Marcus and Zoe...

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