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by Richard Mosher
Clarion Books, 2001
Review by Su Terry on Mar 4th 2003

Zazoo

 Zazoo by Richard Mosher is a bittersweet young adult novel about the long-term effects of war. In this first-person narrative, a young Vietnamese girl raised in France discovers life, love, and womanhood through her relationship with her adopted grandfather, the town pharmacist, and a mysterious “bicycle boy.”

Zazoo is set in contemporary France. Thirteen-year old Zazoo was raised as a typical French girl, although she is a Vietnamese orphan adopted by Grand-Pierre after her parents were killed when she was two-years old. Grand-Pierre and Zazoo live in an isolated stone mill nicknamed the “mill of a thousand tears” and together they oversee the operation of a canal lock, but at 78-year-old and with failing memory, Grand-Pierre is no longer capable of caring for Zazoo, the lock, or even himself.  Zazoo has gradually been forced to become the adult in the family. As the novel opens, it is fall and Marius, a mysterious 16-year old boy has arrived at the old mill on his bicycle. Zazoo becomes instantly infatuated with him, but as they speak, Zazoo becomes suspicious about the prying questions he asks about the personal life of Monsieur Klein, the village pharmacist. Her suspicion turns to joyful expectation when he promises to return “soon”. At the prompting of Marius, Zazoo begins to dig into Monsieur Klein’s private life and inadvertently uncovers Grand-Pierre past in what he calls the "Awful Time" (WWII). “Soon” however, turns into weeks, but eventually a postcard arrives at the pharmacy for Zazoo. A correspondence begins between Zazoo and Marius who lives in Paris with his grandmother. Meanwhile, Zazoo is becoming more and more concerned about Grand-Pierre’s increasing forgetfulness and fits of angry frustration. Complicating matters is the loss of Zazoo’s only friend, Juliette. When Zazoo over hears the town gossip hint that Juliette is adopted, Zazoo sees it as a psychic bond between her and her friend, but  Juliette does not view adoption in the same way, ending their friendships with hurtful words about Zazoo’s ancestry. Left alone with only Grand-Pierre to talk to, Zazoo digs deeper into Grand-Pierre’s past and discovers the secret of his relationship to the town and Mr. Klein. As Zazoo explores the past she unwittingly brings about healing and reconciliation 50-years overdue.

Zazoo is not an easy story to read (or in my case, to listen to). It is filled with horrendous details of, to borrow an expression, “man’s inhumanity to man.” War has destroyed the lives of Grand-Pierre and Mr. Klein leaving them walking wounded in a prison of their own making. Prejudices and events that occurred during WWII continue to shatter the lives of Grand-Pierre and Mr. Klein, while Zazoo is only beginning to understand the impact of prejudice and emerging childhood memory (“Mama go boom? Daddy go boom?”) from a different war upon her own life.

As stated above, Zazoo is not a cheery read. The historic events described are cruel and violent. The long-term impact of these remembered events is painful however more shattering than recalled memory to this story is the loss of memory. Grand-Pierre’s loss of memory (Alzheimer’s Disease?) and his ability to function normally has forced young Zazoo to grow up fast in order to become Grand-Pierre’s caretaker. In order to communicate with Grand-Pierre, Zazoo must resort to the use of poetry and symbolic language "a sad gray cat", “an old gray owl” to connect with Grand-Pierre and piece together his puzzling past.

“Richard Mosher was born in India and raised in upstate New York. When he was fifteen, he spent the year attending a French boarding school and hitchhiking around Europe during vacations. A graduate of Antioch College, Mr. Mosher is the author of one previous novel for young people, The Taxi Navigator (1996). He now lives with his wife in St. Paul, Minnesota.”

The unabridged audiobook, read by Joanna Wyatt, of Zazoo was named to the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) 2003 Selected List of Audiobooks for Young Adults. “Joanna Wyatt is a former singer and performer with Mini Pops. Wyatt also had a starring role on the British television series Luna in the 1980s.  In addition, Wyatt continues to be active in theatre in England, and she has also lent her voice to a number of children's audiobooks.” Wyatt does an incredible job narrating each character with an appropriate voice that details the character’s gender, age, and racial background.

Zazoo by Richard Mosher is a sad yet engrossing tale filled with little mysteries.  Like an onion, as each layer is peeled away, the story becomes more intense and brings more tears to the eye. I cannot say that I “enjoyed” listening to this novel, but I am happy that I did. I recommended that younger readers read this work under the guidance of an adult and that older readers be given the opportunity to express their feelings and reacts to the work. This book is rated “Ages 12-up”. I do recommend it.

 

© 2003 Su Terry

Link: Publisher's Web Page for Audiobook

Su Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental Health: She is interested in the interplay between psychology, biology, and mysticism. Her current area of research is in the impact of hormonal fluctuation in female Christian mystics.