Time Zero

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Time Zero Book Poster Image
Girls struggle against extremism in taut sci-fi thriller.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Time Zero dramatizes the many ways in which religious fundamentalists around the world restrict the rights of women and young girls. The book includes an appendix listing the religious rules that govern the main character, Mina, and a bibliography for further reading.

Positive Messages

Never underestimate the value of kindness. Girls can be empowered by education, reading, and writing.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mina wants to please her parents and keep them safe, but when her grandmother is taken to the hospital, she must rebel and leave the apartment without their permission. She struggles against the rules imposed by the religious extremists who run the city and comes to question many of the tenets of her religion. Sometimes loyal to a fault, she proves to be brave, resourceful, and resilient.

Violence

Time Zero contains scenes of violence, but most of them are neither particularly graphic nor intense. Mina's mother slaps her across the face and has Mina's brother deliberately set her clothing on fire. A rich suitor tries to sexually assault her but stops when a male rescuer hits him with a chair. A gun battle results in the deaths of two antagonists. A mob stones a young woman to death.

Sex

Mina travels through a "theater district" where prostitutes ply their trade. She's attracted to Juda and eventually shares a few passionate embraces with him.

Language

The characters in Time Zero, many of them very religious, do not swear very often. "Damn," "hell," "s--t," and "goddamn" are used a few times each.

Consumerism

Part of the novel is set in an abandoned Macy's store. Mina discovers a cache of Chanel No. 5 perfume, and her friend Grace reads Nancy Drew mysteries.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mina gets drunk on champagne against her will.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Time Zero is a near-future science-fiction novel by Carolyn Cohagan, in which Manhattan is walled off and ruled by religious extremists. The restrictive rules of the society are based on religions practiced in the United States and around the world. The plot includes scenes of violence, including the stoning of a young woman, a sexual assault, and a climactic gunfight that results in deaths. Sexual content is sparse, limited mostly to some flirting and a passionate embrace or two. Infrequent strong language includes "hell," "damn," "goddamn," and "s--t."

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What's the story?

In a near-future New York City, Mina Clark dreads her 15th birthday because it's also the day of her Offering. Suitors young and old come to her parents' apartment to decide whether they want to make a bid for Mina's hand in marriage. With Manhattan ruled by religious extremists, Mina has no rights, no education, and no say in who or when she will marry. When her beloved grandmother is taken to the hospital, Mina finds the courage to go out alone to learn what really happened to her, even if her actions could bring disgrace to her entire family.

Is it any good?

Based on real-life religious beliefs practiced around the world, this dystopian saga, set in a transformed New York, powerfully and compassionately examines the plight of uneducated girls and women. In TIME ZERO, author Carolyn Cohagan delivers a vital message of female empowerment as she chronicles Mina's path toward enlightenment about the true nature of her world. Mina comes to life on the page as someone truly ready to question the status quo, but some of the supporting characters, especially the villainous one, seem one-dimensional.

A couple of well-constructed plot twists move the story in exciting new directions, and the book ends with a cliffhanger that will leave readers wanting more.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how religious extremism affects the lives of girls around the world. Why do some religions forbid the education of young girls?

  • What role does violence play in Time Zero? Is it shown to be an effective tactic?

  • Why are dystopian and apocalyptic stories so popular now in books and movies? What are some of your favorites? 

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