Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.
“This story is not a mystery. It’s a puzzle.”
Kaz Barrett’s mom is sick, randomly falling asleep for days at a time, but she doesn’t want anybody to know. Keeping it a secret meant giving up her job as an orchestra musician, and now she works part time in a library. After Kaz’s father died of a heart attack three years ago, he, his mother, and his little sister, Nomi, had to move from prosperous Rosemount to rundown Evandale, and most of his Rosemount friends dropped him. But Kaz doesn’t have much time for friends, because he works countless hours in laundromat. Everyone thinks he’s saving up to go to university, but the truth is that Kaz needs $12 000 dollars to send his mother to an expensive clinic in New York, where they might be able to treat her rare condition. Kaz is only $2000 short of his goal the summer he meets Zoey, an itinerant busker with pink dreadlocks, and a handmade one-woman-band instrument she calls the rood rattler. Zoey is smart and fun, and different from anyone Kaz has ever met, but she’s also mysterious and unreliable, and the more time Kaz spends with her, the more trouble he has sticking to his principles. Soon his relationship with Zoey is threatening to unravel everything he has worked so hard for.
Blues for Zoey is narrated in the first person by Kaz, who aims for a snarky teenage bravado that actually reveals his youth and uncertainty. He lives in a rough neighbourhood and acts at home there, but the evidence of his sheltered childhood remains. Kaz is surprisingly adult in some ways, caring for his sister, and saving money for a medical clinic while his mother flits between alternative therapies in search of a miracle cure, but this only makes his naivety about other aspects of life more visible by contrast. The summer of the story is one of growing pains for Kaz, who begins to catch glimpses the darker side of life in Evandale. There is an element of mystery here, as Kaz tries to figure out whether his boss, Mr. Rodolfo, may be running a money laundering operation, or if he may have murdered a homeless man in an illegal poker game. He goes from innocent to suspicious in a relatively short space of time, and it is easier for the reader to put the pieces together than it is for Kaz, who seems to be looking in all the wrong places.
The publisher’s description doesn’t entirely do this book justice, because it makes Zoey sound a bit like a typical manic pixie dream girl, come help Kaz embrace the fun side of life despite the burden he carries due to his mother’s illness. Without the reassurance of a friend that this book was worth reading, I wouldn’t have looked twice. In some ways, Robert Paul Weston is toying with the trope of the manic pixie dream girl, introducing a more complex character who has a life and back story of her own, and more than a few flaws. The story is certainly more about Kaz than Zoey, and the first person narration means that Zoey’s inner life remains a mystery to us. This is Kaz’s coming-of-age, but the events of the summer will fundamentally change Zoey’s life as well.