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“For me, sitting at a table full of people is torture. A class discussion is torture. Lunch in the cafeteria is torture,” Elise. –After Zero
by Christina Collins
AR Test, Must Read
Elise has spent years hearing her friend Mel talk about her friends at school. When Elise’s mother finally decides that Elise can go to public school, she is excited. But she soon discovers that it’s easy to say the wrong thing. When Elise accidentally spills a secret and makes a social media mistake, she decides it’s better to be quiet. Now, Elise tries to say as few words as possible. She keeps a notebook full of tallies, marking each word she says. Her goal is to get to zero words spoken.
At school, Elise is known as the quiet girl. She has made no friends, and even Mel is drifting away from her. Now, Elise isn’t sure she could talk if she wanted to. But when she learns a shocking family secret, Elise learns that silence may not be the answer for everything.
After Zero is a beautifully written story about Elise’s personal struggle. Readers will relate to Elise’s desire to make friends and her inability to understand social norms. Like many, Elise would like to connect with someone, but she’s so afraid of saying the wrong thing that she is unable to talk. The story focuses on Elise’s thoughts and struggles, which allows the reader to understand Elise’s thought process. Some of the girls become hostile because they misunderstand Elise’s silence. They do not understand that Elise truly believes that, “silence is the means of avoiding misfortune.”
Although Elise is lonely and bullied at school, her family life is even worse. Her mother hardly ever talks to her. When she gets in an argument with her mother, her “mother’s eyes flash. I’ve seen it before. Whether the loathing is for me or my father, or both, I’m not sure.” Elise lives in a silent world, which forces her to spend too much time focusing on her inner thoughts. After Zero explains Elise’s anxiety in a way that is understandable, allowing the reader to feel compassion for her.
The first person narration allows Elise’s personality to jump off the page. The story is the perfect blend of Elise’s internal turmoil and outside conflicts. The easy-to-read story highlights the importance of forgiveness and friendship. Elise’s story is not only enjoyable, but it will also stay with readers for a long time. Anyone who reads After Zero will come away with a new understanding of others’ struggles with anxiety. The story will also show readers the importance of having empathy for their peers.
- When Elise is lost in the woods, she comes across three teenagers who steal her backpack. “The girl and the curly-haired boy yank my wrists behind me and push me to the ground, pinning me there on my stomach. I jerk and squirm and try to shake them off. . . They put their weight on me with their hands and elbows, and one of them rests the sole of a boot against my cheek, pressing my face to the ground.” In order to get loose, Elise kicks the boy and later slams her elbow into the girl’s leg.
- When Elise is lost in the woods, she sees a house. She’s afraid when she hears someone coming closer. “A boot plants itself in the grass behind me. I summon my muscles, or what’s left of them, and swing around, punching him hard, wherever my fist hit first. . . It turns out I hit a private area. He staggers back, clutching himself, his face contorted.”
- At school, a group of girls gets upset that Elise won’t talk to them. One girl, “comes towards me, whipping a nail file out of her pocket. . . She grabs my wrist and twists it behind my back so fast and hard that I almost cry out. . .She pushes me against the guardrail again, and it rattles. . .” When Elise begins to fight back, a teacher appears and saves her. The scene takes place over five pages.
- One of the teachers presents a poem about her sister that committed suicide.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Elise had been told that her father was killed by a drunk driver. Later, she discovers that her father was driving drunk and had killed her two brothers.
- Elise finds a picture of her father standing with her brothers. Her father, “was raising a beer bottle to the camera.” In another picture, “Emerson is sitting on my father’s shoulders while my father smiles at the camera, a beer can in hand.”
- A boy calls his friend a “doofus.”
- Elise has a vision of her brother and Granny P. When she tries to talk to Granny P., she disappears. Later, the story hints that Elise hallucinated because she was so tired.
- One of Elise’s teachers has a stuffed raven. The story implies that the raven comes to life and helps Elise in several situations. When the stuffed raven disappeared from the classroom, the teacher tells Elise, “Sometimes when we feel lost, the universe sends a little help. Something or someone to guide us on our path…And that can come in the most unexpected form.”
- Elise’s mother does not celebrate her birthday, and her friend thinks it may be because she’s a Jehovah’s Witness. But Elise’s mother, “isn’t religious. I still remember the day a pair of missionaries came to our door and asked if she believed in God. ‘Once upon a time,’ she replied, and she shut the door in their faces.”
- Elise finds a card that someone gave her mother. The card says, “praying your sons will pull through.”