Zoe G. Reindeer hates her last name and her big feet and anything else that makes her "just Zoe."
The 11-year-old black girl enjoys living next to her father's Pasadena nursery, Doc Reindeer's Exotic Plant Wonderland. Among the plants she can be safe from her queen-bee older sister, Jade, and annoying genius younger brother, Harper. Inside the Wonderland, Zoe feels at peace. Outside the Wonderland, she is “just Zoe.” Although she loves hanging out with her best friend, budding filmmaker Quincy Hill, Zoe struggles to connect with others. No one seems to appreciate her for who she is. Even her next-door neighbor Mrs. Warner calls her “little Miss Jade.” All day long she daydreams of Imaginary Zoe, the cool teenage Zoe with a perfect life and overflowing confidence. When a kind visitor stops by the Wonderland, Zoe begins to see that there's more to her than "just Zoe." Woods develops a realistic adolescent struggle with self-acceptance. One betrayal, one relentlessly mean older sister, one moment of rejection weigh heavily on Zoe. Conversely, one kind word, a few minutes of undivided attention, helps disrupt her negative self-image. Young readers will easily identify with Zoe's unbridled curiosity and wishes for the future, and the ending satisfies and avoids being hokey or heavy-handed.
This touching tale about finding strength in uniqueness is a well-crafted read from start to finish. (Fiction. 8-12)