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I think a lot of people assume it’s all sunshine and rainbows when an innocent person is finally freed from prison. That the hard part is over . . . But that’s not true for a lot of exonerees, Zoe. On Air with Zoe Washington

On Air with Zoe Washington

Zoe Washington #2

by Janae Marks
AR Test, Teaches About Culture

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Marks’ novel follows fourteen-year-old Zoe as she begins her summer job working at a local bakery, where she and her biological father, Marcus, begin to bond over their love of baking. Marcus has recently been exonerated, after being previously incarcerated for most of Zoe’s childhood. Zoe and Marcus decide to open a barbecue food truck together, but first, they have to reckon with the systemic obstacles facing Marcus as an exoneree. Though Marcus is entitled to compensation from the state as an exoneree, Zoe quickly realizes that this process often takes a very long time. Marcus explains, “My lawyer is already working on it, but he told me not to expect compensation anytime soon,” as the state can make obtaining this compensation difficult.  

Because Marcus was in prison for so long, he does not have credit in the eyes of the bank and thus he is denied a loan to open a business. After this setback, Zoe begins researching how the lives of exonerees are affected after they are released from prison. Zoe finds that for many exonerees, “the original conviction was still on [their] record, and [they] had a hard time getting a job.” Zoe believes that “it didn’t seem fair. Was it really justice if [exonerees] couldn’t get back to living a regular life?” This realization motivates Zoe to start a podcast, which she calls “On Air with Zoe Washington.” For her podcast, Zoe interviews exonerees and lawyers who frequently work with them. Zoe hopes to help amplify exonerees’ voices on how being incarcerated affects their lives.  

Zoe is a determined, hard-working, loveable character that readers will be drawn to immediately. She not only wants to help her biological father open his business, but she also wants to help raise awareness for the systemic obstacles that affect formerly incarcerated individuals. Zoe uses her podcast as a platform to bring attention to the fundraising page she and Marcus created for their food truck business, and how they intend to hire previously incarcerated people to work with them. Throughout the book, Zoe learns from the people she interviews on her podcast, as well as from Marcus, the importance of not making assumptions and judgments about individuals. Marcus reminds Zoe of the people he met in prison and the importance of second chances, especially when it comes to finding work after incarceration.  

Marcus is also an extremely empathetic character. He helps Zoe become more open-minded towards the idea of hiring previously incarcerated people. Marcus explains that he met many people in prison who “weren’t innocent of their crimes but served their time and are ready to do better.” However, prisoners struggle to find jobs after their release because “people on the outside judge. They think ‘Once a criminal, always a criminal.’ But if they were more open-minded, they’d see that’s not the case for a lot of folks.” Marcus helps Zoe realize that “previous offenders were like many of us—worthy of another chance.” Zoe learns that if she wants things to be better for Marcus, she also has to try to make things better for others.  

Overall, On Air with Zoe Washington emphasizes the importance of not being judgmental towards others. Marks maintains the familiar characters from the first book in this two-part series, From the Desk of Zoe Washington. Though this second novel could be read as a stand-alone book, Zoe’s journey in reconnecting with Marcus and helping him prove his innocence is central to From the Desk of Zoe Washington, and frequently referenced in this novel as well.  

The book also raises awareness about the stigma and systemic obstacles facing formerly incarcerated individuals. This is highlighted through Marcus as he struggles to use new technology, and he isn’t “able to get exoneree compensation from the state, or any other assistance or loans.” The key takeaway of this novel is best exemplified by what Zoe explains: “I learned so much from all of [the people Zoe interviewed], and in the end, I was happy the panel topic had shifted to include prior inmates who had committed their crimes. Because they deserved grace, support, and a better life, too.”  

Readers who are interested in social issues such as the ones discussed in On the Air with Zoe Washington, should also read A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee and Clean Getaway by Nic Stone. 

Sexual Content 

  • Zoe’s best friend, Maya, tells Zoe about how she kissed her boyfriend, Trevor, for the first time. Maya says, “Trevor and I . . . we finally kissed.Maya says the kiss was “kind of awkward the first few seconds, but it got way better after that.”  


  • None 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Zoe talks with Hannah, a girl whose mom is incarcerated. Hannah says her mom’s “crimes are all drug-related like she got caught with drugs. Usually, she ends up in prison for a while, and when she gets out, she’ll agree to go to rehab . . . But then she ends up back on drugs, gets arrested again, and it’s this whole horrible cycle.” 


  • None 


  • None 

Spiritual Content 

  • Marcus leads Zoe and the rest of her family in prayer before their dinner. “Marcus closed his eyes and thanked God for the food and this opportunity to be together.” 
  • Zoe explains, “My parents and Grandma weren’t religious, so I hadn’t grown up going to church. Praying wasn’t usually something we did before eating. It felt right, though, to give thanks in that moment.” 
Other books by Janae Marks
Other books you may enjoy

I think a lot of people assume it’s all sunshine and rainbows when an innocent person is finally freed from prison. That the hard part is over . . . But that’s not true for a lot of exonerees, Zoe. On Air with Zoe Washington

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