Overall: Incredibly annoying MC, solid friendships, and a romance blander than bread.
The more I touch someone, the more I can see and understand, and the more I think I can help. But that’s my mistake. I can’t help. You can’t fix people like you can solve a math problem.
Math genius. Freak of nature. Loner.
Eva Walker has literally one friend—if you don’t count her quadruplet three-year-old-siblings—and it’s not even because she’s a math nerd. No, Eva is a loner out of necessity, because everyone and everything around her is an emotional minefield. All she has to do is touch someone, or their shirt, or their cell phone, and she can read all their secrets, their insecurities, their fears.
Sure, Eva’s “gift” comes in handy when she’s tutoring math and she can learn where people are struggling just by touching their calculators. For the most part, though, it’s safer to keep her hands to herself. Until she meets six-foot-three, cute-without-trying Zenn Bennett, who makes that nearly impossible.
Zenn’s jacket gives Eva such a dark and violent vision that you’d think not touching him would be easy. But sometimes you have to take a risk…
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
“Si,” I answer.
“Bueno,” he says. “Vamos, chica guapa.”
I don’t speak Spanish- I’m a French girl- but I think he either called me pretty or fat. I’m going to go with pretty.
Wendy Brandt’s debut novel, Zenn Diagram, follows the struggles of a socially awkward young adult (and math genius) with an interesting condition- she can feel everyone’s emotions just by touching one of their possessions. An incredible gift, yes, but also an incredible burden- and Eva understands that all too well. She lives terrified of human contact, wondering what it would be like to brush against someone without fear of understanding their fractals- clumps of emotion composed of one’s darkest fears, hopes, loves, etc. But that all changes when she meets the handsome, mysterious, and did I mention handsome Zenn Bennett, humble artist and apparently “damaged goods“.
I do not know whether it was the author’s intention, but the title, Zenn Diagram, is actually very clever. The title alludes to two seemingly different people- two sides of the “Zenn Diagram”- coming together through coincidence or fate to share a common love (representing the “similarities” circle of the diagram)… which all sounded better when I said it in my head.
I immediately gravitated toward this book because of math. Now, I am not a math person. In fact, I am the OPPOSITE of a math person. I hate math, and math hates me.
But I’ve always been
jealous of fascinated by math prodigies- people who could effortlessly sail their way through Calculus problems and memorize all of the Trig formulas without batting an eyelash, whereas I have to stare at my notebook in despair for over an hour before it even begins to click.
Eva, our protagonist, is one of those people. She loves everything about math, and the reader could truly feel her passion through the pages of the book (or, in my case, through the screen of my phone, since I was reading through an e-galley). I mean, when other kids her age are hosting “Yo Mama” competitions, she is writing down math jokes in a notebook.
Eva (pronounced eva, like neva eva, not like the Eeeeva in WALL-E) is mostly relatable, hilarious, and more than a little sassy. She’s also the “perfect child”, the pastor’s kid, and the best older sister any quadruplet could ever hope for. This is all fine and dandy… if you ignore the fact that for the first half of the book, I absolutely could not stand Eva’s voice. She came off as incredibly pretentious (and yes, I understand the irony of using that word, but I can’t think of any other way to describe it). Though like any other teenage girl, she struggles with self-esteem issues, she makes no secret of judging others her age for their demeanor or for their interests. In fact, all of the MCs seem to have this particular mindset, constantly emphasizing that they are “different” from all those other fake, boring people, and therefore more special.
How a C is good enough for anyone, I’m not sure I’ll ever understand. But somehow he will be satisfied by his own mediocrity, I’ll be thanked for getting him football eligible and we’ll both go on our merry way.
Excuse me? Patronizing much? I understand that the author is trying to use humor, but I’m not sure whether she’s being sarcastic or serious.
Little Miss Goody Two Shoes Eva also makes a few comments about “sluttiness” that really, really rubbed me the wrong way. They don’t come up often, and they’re off-handed enough to make me wonder why Brandt even included it. For instance, when she’s talking about one of her little sisters:
I just hope it doesn’t mean they’ll grow up to be slutty girls who give it away to any cute boys who buy them dinner.
Again, excuse me? *gapes*
Eva consistently reminds readers that she and her best friend, Charlotte, are not “most girls”, whatever that may mean. And at times, she assumes an air of “high-and-mighty” superiority over all of the stereotypically feminine, apparently unintelligent, popular crowd that frankly made me want to scream. In short, her tone is initially extremely condescending toward those she deems too frivolous or too concerned about their own appearance. Which, again, made her irritating to read about.
I guess my indifference to my own appearance is unusual. Most women could make a full-time job of trying to be prettier, and sadly beauty is the one thing that we, as a gender, work at the hardest.
This attitude really, really irked me in the first few chapters of the book. Both genders have ALWAYS struggled with unrealistic standards of beauty, but Eva at first just completely dismisses this important issue. It seemed as if the narrator was trying to be wry, but really just came off as trying too hard.
I’m overlooked by boys, too, but not because I’m taller (which I’m not), or because I’m unusually attractive (also not). Mostly it’s because I’m a little weird and love math the way most girls love Starbucks. Plus, as I mentioned, I don’t create a welcoming atmosphere with my seemingly germaphobic tendencies. I don’t place my hands flirtatiously on muscular arms and giggle. I don’t hug everyone for no reason or push at firm chests in mock aggression.
Most girls in our school would not be caught dead wearing earrings bought at a farmers’ market made out of recycled garbage. This is why I love Charlotte: she is not most girls.
Thankfully, Eva grew on me as the story continued, especially as her judgmental attitude subsided significantly, which helped redeem the book for me. I began to realize that Eva is a very lonely girl, despite her facade of indifference and disdain. Who wouldn’t be, if you were forced to abstain from all human contact for most of your life? Eva matures. And although the book may have suffered from a massive overdose of “NOT LIKE MOST GIRLS NOT LIKE MOST GIRLS”, I found her character quite entertaining. Her dry, slightly cynical humor definitely had its moments. But that, unfortunately, still doesn’t make up for her annoying-as-heck attitude earlier on.
On a more positive note, Brandt’s development of Eva and Charlotte’s friendship shone. Yes, Eva and Charlotte go through their own rough patches, but most importantly, they come back to each other when they need it most. I think I just really like good, solid friendships.
I agree to go shopping on Saturday, though I can’t think of many worse forms of torture. But she’s my best friend and it’s our senior homecoming. Her first high-school dance with a date. For Charlotte, I will endure a day of searching for granny shoes and a dress that won’t make her look like a politician’s wife. It’s the least I can do.
If that isn’t true love, then what is?
Furthermore, in Zenn Diagram, Brandt portrays both broken and whole families, but in no way does she unnecessarily vilify any character in particular. She makes sure to highlight that all of them are human, who make mistakes just like everybody else- with the exception of the fake, plastic, popular crowd, of course, because they’re more BARBIE ROBOT than human being, apparently. I also absolutely adored Eva’s crazy, chaotic family life (especially the quadruplets!).
Obviously, this book revolves around romantic love, but for some reason, this stood out to me the least. Maybe I’ve read too many dystopian novels; maybe I’ve become too jaded and cynical to appreciate it. Whatever it is, I spotted too many hints of insta-love, and waded through too many descriptions of Zenn’s gorgeous eyes and gorgeous bod and gorgeous face, for me to truly love the romance. Nothing about Zenn’s personality or development made him stand out, though some interesting back-story details are revealed. The “buildup”- the development of Zenn and Eva’s relationship- is cute enough, but extremely predictable, although I do admit that I laughed out loud at their amusing conversations. Talk dirty to me? More like talk trig to me.
He leans close and says, “Sine. Cosine.” His lips touch my earlobe and I hold my breath. “Tangent.”
“God, that is hot.”
Coincidence also played a huge role in this book, so if you’re not one for unrealistic circumstances, then this book is probably not for you. Everything seems like part of some elaborate designs of fate– almost as if Zenn and Eva were soulmates, destined to meet each other eventually. This emphasis on “meant to be” may come off as cheesy to some, but that’s all part of the magic of YA.
Lastly, I’d like to add that Zenn Diagram does include a little bit of much-needed social commentary on issues like rape (which the MC very cleverly compares to drinking tea. It makes more sense when you read it, I promise) and the importance of forgiveness. Brandt doesn’t try to demonize religion, which was also extremely refreshing.
Considering that I finished this book in almost two days, despite the slow beginning and the annoying protagonist, this is a light and fluffy read perfect for lovers of contemporary teen romance.
Thanks to Kids Can Press, I received this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.