The Improbable Theory of Ana & Zak

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Improbable Theory of Ana & Zak Book Poster Image
Kind of cute and funny but super predictable teen romcom.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

A few phrases in German and French, not translated. A character in The Count of Monte Cristo explained. Some quiz-bowl questions and answers.

Positive Messages

Live your own life, make your own decisions, stand up for yourself. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ana and Zak both have their own imperfections. Both mature into people better prepared to face the challenges of adulthood by opening themselves to new experiences and seeing things from others' perspectives.


Punching, kicking, face-slapping, and being crushed briefly described, sometimes for comedic effect; pain briefly described; blood mentioned but not described in detail; some melee-style fighting with fake weapons causes injuries. Bad guy threatens with a gun. 


A couple of kisses; some hand-holding. Teen pregnancy mentioned several times.


"Crap," "prick," "damn," "hell," "smeggin'," "ass," "a--hole," "butt," "shit," "pissy," "bitch," "screwed," "sucks," "slut," "balls," "son of a bitch."


Many sci-fi, comic book, video game, board game, and movie quotes and references to create mood or establish character. Denny's.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Shooting heroin as health-class topic. Bongs for sale mentioned. Past pot smoking (and not liking it) mentioned. Found backpack has white powder in a baggie. One bad guy is a drug dealer. Sci-fi/comic convention has lax policy about serving beer. Stench of alcohol mentioned. Several mentions of smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Improbable Theory of Ana & Zak is an opposites-attract teen romance from veteran YA author and school librarian Brian Katcher. Mild sexual content includes hand-holding and a few kisses with no detailed descriptions. There's some fighting with punches, kicks, slaps, and resulting pain briefly described with some mentions of blood. Teens use some strong language including "s--t" and "ass." Drinking and smoking get a few brief mentions, but neither protagonist does either. A bad guy is a drug dealer, and white powder in a baggie is mentioned as probably being cocaine or heroin.

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What's the story?

Slacker Zak's had his eye on overachiever Ana for a while, but she's way out of his league. When Zak gets caught cheating on a paper, the only way he can pass the class and graduate on time is to rewrite the paper and participate in an out-of-town quiz-bowl tournament. The only good news is that Ana is the team captain. So when Zak's asked to look after Ana's younger brother, Clayton, who's also on the team, it seems like the perfect opening for him to get to know Ana. Clayton sneaks away to go to a sci-fi/comic book convention. Ana and Zak go after him, but can they find him amid the "con" craziness and get him back to the hotel before curfew?

Is it any good?

Heavy on romcom clichés, from the opposites-attract protagonists to the utterly predictable plot points, this sometimes feels more like a screenplay treatment than a novel. Even so, Ana and Zak are quirky, funny characters teens will relate to, and romance fans especially will enjoy their madcap adventure through a Seattle comic-con and into each other's hearts.

THE IMPROBABLE THEORY OF ANA & ZAK alternates narration between the protagonists and creates two likable, believable characters. The zaniness of the comic convention is vividly captured and studded with equally quirky and interesting minor characters. The plot, despite the predictability, moves at a good pace and keeps the laughs coming. Teens and romance fans will enjoy this light, fun read.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the idea that opposites attract. Do you think that's true? What kind of future do you see for Ana and Zak?

  • Who are some romantic couples from books or movies? How do Ana and Zak compare as a couple? What makes a great romantic pair?

  • Do you think Ana and Zak's relationship is realistic? What rings true about it? What seems like a stretch?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love romance

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