Zora and Me

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Zora and Me Book Poster Image
Tense murder mystery stars a young Zora Neale Hurston.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Shows kids what it was like to live in the town where Zora Neal Hurston grew up, including the types of things kids did for fun and the racial and social norms of a Southern town in the early 20th century. 

Positive Messages

Strong messages about the importance of friendship, family, and community, the power of forgiveness, and the importance of truth over gossip. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Zora models being a good friend when she accepts the fury of Carrie and the fault for a young man being killed. Though she was not at fault, Zora understands the emotional outburst her friend has and continues to hug her and support her throughout. Later, Carrie models good friendship when she helps Zora manage the guilt she feels over the death, even though she's blameless. Several adults are good role models for the kids because they step in when the kids need help, such as the kind store owner who listens without dismissing Zora's theory of the gator-man and takes action when Zora and Carrie have more serious information. Overall, the adults in town show care and compassion for one another and instruct the children about how and why they behave the way they do.

Violence

A man is murdered and it's a mystery who did it. An elderly woman falls off a cliff and is bruised, a child runs off the same cliff and breaks her arm. A man is mauled by an alligator. A story is related where a black boy is beaten very badly by a group of white children. He later recovers from his injuries. A man almost strikes his daughter in anger.

Sex

A black woman pretending to white is dating and likely living with a white man, which is frown upon during this time period. There are childhood crushes, and a little boy is teased that he's dating his two best friends.  

Language

The "N" word is used by a white man -- common for the time. A mixed-race woman uses the "N" word to describe the reason why a boy was beaten: because they accused him of being an "uppity" "N" word. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Passing mention of adults drinking or smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon's Zora and Me is a fictional story that offers a historical snapshot of the childhood of famed Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston. Narrated by Zora's friend Carrie, the story includes a mysterious murder, tales of magic and folklore, and deals with issues of abandonment, poverty and race relations in a Southern town at the turn of the 20th century. Families should be prepared to discuss folktales, different types of families, friendship, and issues of race.

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What's the story?

In ZORA AND ME, Zora has an imagination as big as the world, and with it and her friends Teddy and Carrie, she tries to solve the mystery of a horrific murder in their Florida town, the first of its kind. Is it the half-gator/half-man Zora swears she saw one night or something much, much worse? Ivory had a golden voice, and it's up to the three friends to discover who silenced it and why so they can protect their little town. Along the way they learn the healing power of friendship, community, and self-love.

Is it any good?

Readers will be on the edge of their seats as this intriguing mystery keeps them guessing right until the end. Authors Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon imagine a young Zora Neale Hurston in her precious Florida hometown, which they bring to life so vividly, readers feel a part of it from the very beginning as they get to know the town's residents and even the trees draw them in. They'll stay invested in the story through its masterful conclusion.

Zora and Me, set in the late 1800s, never feels stale or antiquated tanks to its universal themes of family, friendship and community. The lies and betrayals are shocking, yet the story never loses its grounding or its sympathetic lens.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Zora's big imagination in Zora and Me. Why does it lead people to say she's telling lies? How does she use her imagination to cope with some of the serious and not so serious events in the book?

  • What are some of the difference between Zora's community and yours? What are some of the similarities? 

  • The folktale Zora reads in the novel has a lesson inside the story -- what is it? What traditional folktales have you learned? What are their lessons? Why do you think folktales are used this way?

Book details

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