From the Desk of Zoe Washington

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
From the Desk of Zoe Washington Book Poster Image
Girl works to clear her father of a crime in smart tale.

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 4 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Young readers will learn about criticisms of the criminal justice system, including that people can be convicted of crimes even when they're innocent. The Black Lives Matter movement and the Innocence Project are discussed. There's also a broad message about the importance of educating yourself through reading, practicing skills, and using critical thinking to evaluate your beliefs.

Positive Messages

Before making a judgment about another person, make sure you know all the facts. Be open-minded, learn how to learn, and be willing to forgive.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The central family in the story is one in which a White stepfather helps raise the daughter of his African American wife after the biological father, who's also Black, has gone to prison. There's is a supportive grandmother who acts as a confidante to her grandchild. She's also the role model to the entire family for how to make difficult life choices. An imprisoned father makes efforts to develop a relationship with the child he left behind. A 12-year-old boy and girl navigate conflicts in their friendship as they transition into the stage when boys and girls start to socially segregate.

Violence & Scariness

Reference to the murder Zoe's father was convicted of committing murder -- although he claims he's innocent and believes there's an alibi witness who can clear him. 


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Janae Marks' From the Desk of Zoe Washington is about a 12-year-old African American girl who receives a letter from her imprisoned biological father, Marcus, and secretly begins corresponding with him. Zoe lives with her mother and her White stepfather. Her best friend Trevor's family occupies the other unit in the duplex where Zoe and her family live. When Marcus, who was convicted of murdering a college classmate, tells Zoe he's innocent, she sets out to find the alibi witness his attorney failed to track down. The imprisoned man bonds with his daughter by sending her recommendations of specific songs and artists for her playlist. One subplot revolves around Zoe's aspirations to audition for a kids' bake-off TV show and to publish a book published like a previous winner on the show.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 7-year-old Written byJosephine S. March 7, 2020

Zoe, a girl who has goals for herself and knows how to go after them.

The story is a bit unrealistic but nevertheless I enjoyed every word. Here fairy tales do come true.

12 year old Zoe is a remarkable 12 year old. She knows wh... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bythejoker1416 November 27, 2020
Kid, 11 years old September 1, 2020

Great book!

I read From the Desk of Zoe Washington for one of my school’s book clubs, and I loved it! The plot is about Zoe’s dad being in prison for (spoiler alert) a murd... Continue reading

What's the story?

When FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON opens, 12-year-old Zoe has received a letter from Marcus, the biological father she's never met. Marcus was sent to prison for murdering a classmate in his freshman year of college, before Zoe was born. She doesn't tell her parents that she got the letter, and she writes him back. Father and daughter develop a friendship, and Marcus tells Zoe that he's innocent. She investigates the case and sets out to find a possible alibi witness his attorney failed to track down. Other plot lines revolve around Zoe's evolving friendship with a boy her age and her aspirations to appear on a bake-off TV show and become a baker and cookbook author. 

Is it any good?

This fun story covers several potentially scary topics with a light touch. In her debut novel, From the Desk of Zoe Washington, Janae Marks writes about a kid's experience of having a parent in prison, the day-to-day issues that come up for biracial families, and inequities in the criminal justice system. There are also some very sensitive and skillfully executed scenes of a boy and girl renegotiating their friendship as middle-school peer pressure begins to come between them. In one lovely sequence, the two young characters Zoe and Trevor, take their first trip on public transit without their parents: They almost miss their train, ride a stop in the wrong direction, and take a cab by themselves. The emotions in the story are accessible to younger readers, even if they're not ready to discuss all of the topics.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about when to be cautious and when to take a risk. What are the different risks Zoe takes over the course of From the Desk of Zoe Washington? Which ones seemed scariest to you?

  • Zoe and her father write to each other about their lives and bond by talking about music. Have you ever been separated from someone you were close to? What did you to maintain the relationship?

  • Zoe hides from her parents the fact that she's communicating with her biological father. Do you think Zoe made the right decision? Why do you think her grandmother and Trevor agree to help her keep her secret? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love family stories

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