Zen and Xander UndoneZen and Xander Undone by Amy Kathleen Ryan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“. . . but the epitaph I wanted wasn’t by a poet or a rock band. It was something Mom whispered to us herself on her last day alive. “Every moment with you has been wonderful.” That’s the kind of thing that should be carved in stone.”

This is a coming of age style story that deals with the idea of losing a loved one, and the loss of identity that can come with that. Zen and Xander are teens and the book opens on their mothers funeral. In the style of P.S. I love you by Cecelia Ahern the mother has arranged to send letters to her daughters after her death. Now at this point I mentally groaned, I feared that this would be a poor imitation, but I was wrong. The letters from the mother are so inconsequential to the plot that it was almost unnecessary. In face, I feel like this was just a prop to get to the plot that the author really wanted to write about.

What makes this book one that you will not be able to put down is the search for identity that these girls undergo. In losing their mother they start to question their own identities, as well as their mothers. Was she really the person they knew, or did she have a secret life betraying the whole family? The idea that Mom may have also had an identity outside of the family, let alone a romantic life with someone other than Dad is one that most children find unthinkable. Without their mother to ground them they are also questioning their own identities, each others roles and their overall place in the world.

This is all so vague – what are you talking about?  Sorry.  If you don’t fear mild spoilers keep reading – otherwise just take a break here and come back when you have read the book.

The unnecessary prop of mom sending letters leads to the girls finding a hint that Mommy may have had a lover for the first few years of the family’s life.  As any child would they find this very disturbing.  They feel betrayed and the rest of the book is spent investigating their mothers history.  I love how the author drew out this search.  It was believable, it was conflicted, it was super intriguing.  This investigation is what drove the story for me, but while it was going on the character development that was taking place in the interim scenes really ended up being the part that touched the heart.  The untethered Xander is a character that I have been, that I have met, and that I am sure I will meet again.  The closed off Zen is again someone I have been, met, and expect in the future.  Life is complicated, and the author appreciates the beauty that is entwined in that.

This is a book that I enjoyed, and I would read any other books that this author writes eagerly.  At the beginning I expected this to be a book that alternated POV between Zen and Xander; however this is not the case.  The entire story is told from Zen’s point of view, and I can’t help but wonder if that decision limited the scope of the book.  It was an early book by the author, I can’t help but wonder if she had it to do over again would she do things differently?