Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Review of The Secret of Zoom by Lynne Jonell

Jonell, Lynne. The Secret of Zoom. Holt, 2009.

Christina's scientist mom died in an explosion when she was a baby, and ever since she has lived an overprotected life with her loving but distant and awkward dad, who is a scientist with Loompski Labs. In fact, Christina is barely allowed outside her house, let alone off the property. Nevertheless, she not only manages to meet a boy named Taft who lives in the nearby orphanage, but she discovers secret tunnels, a mini airplane whose fuel is a substance called Zoom, and a truly nasty conspiracy that uses fearful and expendable orphans to mine Zoom.

I was ready to really like this book, having enjoyed the quirkiness of Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat and its sequel, Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls, not to mention their pro-rat stance, a rare quality indeed. But although Zoom was fast-paced, with plenty of adventure and danger, it left me rather cold.

The problem for me was that while there were plenty of standard characters (sheltered yet plucky heroine, dead mom, distant dad, prickly yet vulnerable boy, orphans in danger, truly awful villains), none of them felt real. There wasn't much of a heart to the story, making it hard to see the characters - even Christina - as real people one should care about. And maybe it shouldn't matter, as this is a light fantasy, but that makes it all the more jarring that some orphans actually die pretty terrible deaths, skimmed over as they are. The villains are one-dimensional and uninteresting, as are Christina's parents. Luckily she and Taft manage to carry the story quite capably through to the end, but they weren't enough for me.

Actually, one character did appeal to me - old Mrs. Lisowsky of the fuzzy red hair, who is the only one in the book who manages to be both sly and unpredictable. Her part in the story is tiny but key, and she steals the show.

As for the plot - well, it is both complicated and far-fetched, but it does speed the reader along. The idea of this strange substance Zoom as both a fuel and an explosive device that is triggered by sound waves and controlled by thoughts just didn't work for me - but man, do I crave a thought-controlled little airplane.

Although I would recommend the Emmy books to kids first, this will be fine for kids who love books about vulnerable kids triumphing over evil, powerful grown-ups. Best for kids in grades 3 to 5.


  1. Thanks for the review. I, too, loved the Emmy books and was curious about "Zoom." Have you read "Fern Verdant and the Silver Rose" by Diana Lesczynski? It sounds similar - scientist (botanist) parents, evil plot, orphans, but I think it did have heart. Also, the minor weaving of environmental themes throughout the plot was really interesting and unique, for me.

  2. I haven't read Fern Verdant (adds yet another book to miles-long must-read list). It wasn't that Zoom was a bad book at all, just that, as you said, it lacked a bit of heart - it makes feel a bit guilty for my crabby review. I guess the problem is that I don't want to feel indifferent about a book.

  3. I felt the exact same way and wrote a rather cranky review myself (then, being a nice person, felt guilty). And yes, I did like the Emmy/Rat books! One not-so-good symptom for me was that I kept putting the book down to reach for other things; had to make myself finish it. So thanks--validation!

  4. :) One of the rights not included on Daniel Pennac's "Rights of the Reader" is "The right to not like a book!"

  5. I felt that the book was really good