Zoe Rosenthal is not Lawful Good, by Nancy Werlin

A shout-out to Aaron Gacs for teaching me what a character alignment chart is! That was four or five years ago. If he hadn’t done that, I would never have understood the title of this captivating novel.

If, as the title claims, Zoe is not lawful good, in which quadrant [wrong word alert: must be “nonant,” I suppose] does she fit? I guess you’ll just have to read the book to find out, won’t you?

OK, yes, it’s a YA novel. But if that categorization makes you think that it’s beneath you, think again. It might help if you know about cosplay (no personal experience here, but I’ve learned a lot about it from the Facebook posts of a former student), and about Comic Con and related cons (same comment), and about fan fiction (ditto). The assorted characters all feel very real to me—I don’t know them, but I know them, if you know what I mean—and their interactions are convincing. They remind me of a certain segment of students I knew in Weston, although I think most of them are supposed to be from Newton (close enough). The author has successfully aimed for diversity, not only in ethnicity and gender identity but also in terms of neurodiversity, with one major character who is explicitly on the spectrum. While this may sound forced, and while it may offend some right-wingers, it works perfectly in this novel and doesn’t come across as the least bit forced.

I needed to do a bit of poking around in Urban Dictionary for some up-to-date slang that I didn’t know—that’s what happens three years after retiring—such as “desi.” I think it’s all authentic—at least it felt authentic—though of course I can’t be sure.

Like most YA novels, Zoe Rosenthal is not Lawful Good of course has a message for teens. Two of them, in fact: acceptance and power. The first comes from the diversity mentioned above, the latter from the underlying goal of the characters: to save a science fiction TV show from being canceled. But the author never hits you over the head with messages, it’s just that they are sitting there in the subtext. I won’t commit any spoilers by telling you whether Zoe and her friends are successful—of course there’s lot of angst and teen drama along the way, but I’m sure you can guess the ending.

Actually, I lied. I will commit one spoiler, but it’s very minor and also predictable: Zoe does not end up going to Harvard along with her perfect boyfriend. Now go read the book.

Categories: Books, Weston