Zoe Rosenthal Is Not Lawful Good
Barnes & Noble
Published by: Candlewick
Release Date: April 6, 2021
Looking for Nancy's book release appearances / events for Zoe? Go here.
A buttoned-up overachiever works overtime to keep her inner nerd at bay—failing spectacularly—in Nancy Werlin’s hilarious and heartfelt return to contemporary realistic fiction.
Planning is Zoe Rosenthal’s superpower. She has faith in a properly organized to-do list and avoids unnecessary risks. Her mental checklist goes something like this: 1) Meet soulmate: DONE! 2) Make commitment: DONE! 3) Marriage: TO COME! (after college). She isn’t sure which college yet, but it will have a strong political science department, since her perfect boyfriend, Simon, plans to “save the country,” as his sister puts it, “and the planet and everything.” Zoe will follow along, the perfect serious, supportive girlfriend. It’s good to have her love life resolved, checked off, done. But speaking of unnecessary risks, Zoe’s on a plane to Atlanta, sneaking off to Dragon Con for the second season premiere of Bleeders. The show is subject to her boyfriend’s lofty scorn, but Zoe is nothing like these colorful hordes “wearing their inside on their outside.” Once her flirtation with fandom is over, she will get back to the important business of planning a future with Simon. The trouble is, right now, Bleeders—and her fellow “Bloodygits”—may just mean the world to her. Will a single night of nerdery be enough?
Best-selling and award-winning author Nancy Werlin is best known for science fiction, fantasy, and suspense, but here she turns her pen to realistic fiction with broad appeal. Confirmed nerds will revel in a diverse cast, zany fandoms, and cosplaying crowds, but this is for any reader seeking a smart, breezy coming-of-age story about finding your friends—and your inconvenient self.
"Zoe’s journey of self-discovery is a nerdy trip through pop-culture easter eggs that will have like-minded readers smiling knowingly with each allusion... A charming story of a closet nerd realizing her full potential and finding her fandom family."—Kirkus Reviews
"A fast-paced character-driven story full of geekiness. Werlin highlights the need for racial and gender inclusivity in geek culture, demonstrating how fandoms can allow people to truly express themselves... Teens will also relate to Zoe’s relationship and college search woes...a quick, fun read." —SLJ
"I love this book like no contemporary YA has ever been loved before! It's about finding your tribe. And what it feels like when you do. And how it changes you. Nancy Werlin naturally has to invent a series for her kids to be obsessed with: virus-hunters in space (and she wrote this 2 years ago!) - a renegade ship captained by a middle-aged Black woman and an all-female crew of physicians except for one mysterious man . . . and two who share one body. Just reading bits of it is thrilling! She also goes deeper into what it means for each generation of women to see themselves in roles like Uhura, Princess Leia . . . and even Squirrel Girl. I'm laughing on one page, sighing in awe and wonder on the next." —Ellen Kushner, author of Swordspoint
“Werlin vividly paints fandom antics, tracing Zoe’s evolution during her thrilling, often hilarious trips to cons around the country.”—Publishers Weekly
“A feel-good read that will leave readers proud to be fans.”—BCCB
Scene 1: Sneaking
As I waited to board my Friday afternoon flight, I got a text from my boyfriend.
SIMON: Are you feeling better?
SIMON: I’ll come over when I get off my shift, ok?
I remained as calm as Captain was when the Bleeder virus—suddenly fully sentient—looked back at her from under the microscope in Episode 2. I knew Simon didn’t suspect me. I might have decided spontaneously to do this, but then I had planned every move. (Planning is my superpower.) Also, I was morally in the clear. I was.
ME: Don’t come. It’s only a headache.
ME: I’m going to nap now anyway.
SIMON: Well, if you’re sure you don’t need me.
ME: Our state-senator-to-be needs you more. And I have Maggie checking on me later.
SIMON: Okay, good. See you tomorrow! xo
ME: Absolutely. xo
I boarded my flight. Calmly!
This alternate, obsessed, geeked-out, Bleeders fan version of myself (that I’d only discovered a few weeks ago) was kind of silly. Simon would use a stronger word than silly. Nobody could do blistering, intelligent scorn like Simon, although of course he never directed it at me.
I made sure of that. I was the perfect girlfriend. As such, I also knew that he needed his focus on bigger and more important things than my tiny personal . . . excursion. My whereabouts for the next 24 hours were between me, myself, and (of course) Maggie. And if I regretted that I had to hide from the only Bleeders fan I knew personally, well, that was the price. It was too risky to tell Simon’s younger sister. At fourteen, Josie had no filter between her brain and her mouth.
I do not take unnecessary risks.
I found my window seat and stowed my backpack. I listened to the flight attendant’s spiel about seatbelts and exit rows. But I only breathed fully again after Simon sent a funny .gif of some guy getting “back to work.”
My parents didn’t know what I was up to either, but I wasn’t worried about them. I might even have told them—if I could have figured out how to instruct them never to mention it to Simon. I couldn’t, but they were off on a romantic end-of-summer Montreal trip anyway. We’d agreed I’d text them only in case of emergency, which this was emphatically not.
They deserved their time together. They’d been all croissant au chocolat and au revoir and je t’adore before they ran off to the car together. So cute! Maggie had mouthed at me. I’d rolled my eyes, but it’s true, they’re adorable.
Fun fact: my parents got together in high school, just like Simon and me. It was because of their example that my mental bullet list went something like this:
Make commitment: CHECK!
Marriage: TO COME! (after college)
The plane took off and my everyday Boston world shrank teeny-tiny and got left behind. I nudged my backpack with the toe of my orange high-top sneaker. I hadn’t brought much, since I’d be back tomorrow morning. My con registration. My season premiere ticket. Change of clothes. Of course my bullet journal.
Simon and I had a lot to do our senior year to figure out college together. Once this little fandom indulgence was over, I wouldn’t have time to think about Bleeders. After seeing the premiere tonight, I might not even watch the rest of Season 2.
And I shouldn’t waste this plane time! I pulled out my bullet journal and ultra-fine Sharpie to outline a college application essay. “Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma—anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could take to identify a solution.”
I looked out the window at the summer sky. Simon would have a dozen ideas—for himself and for me—but on the plane to Dragon Con, Bleeders felt like the only thing of personal importance to me.
The Bleeder virus! When you’re infected, the walls of your arteries and veins and capillaries transmute into basically tissue paper. Blood seeps rapidly from every pore, so within seconds, you’re a bleeding sack of skin holding in bones and organs. But somehow you stay upright, alive, for a few completely horrifying and totally infectious minutes. (The special effects are riveting.)
I thought of Lorelei in the lab in the first episode. The way she looks into the microscope, down at the virus. Then at Captain.
“We took an oath to save life,” Lorelei says neutrally. “All life.”
“I’m taking another oath right now,” Captain answers. “To stop this.” But we see her face as she says it. We see that she doesn’t know how. And that she’s scared. On top of everything else, Captain Paloma is a mother, and the virus is a threat to all humanoid life. She’s also level-headed, deadly, and dedicated to keeping her tiny MOSS (mobile space surgery) crew safe from the robotic Interplanetary Sanitation Force, doing their forbidden scientific research . . . while running and evading and hiding. And when they must, fighting.
But only when they must. Originally, they chose to flee. I don’t blame them for it. Because: What are you supposed to do against a Really Big Bad? When deep in your heart, you don’t believe you can have any effect on it? When, even deeper in your heart, you truly think the worst will surely come? When you can’t help but despair, no matter how hard you pretend to have hope, especially when you’re with the people who really do have hope?
You run! It’s logical!
And yet I know that if I keep watching, the crew will figure out a way to fight and win. Somehow. Because fiction, not reality. Captain, Lorelei, Celie, Tennah/Bellah, Monica, and Torrance will win through in the end.
And I want, I need, to see that happen.
Yes, yes, yes. It’s an imaginary universe with imaginary problems. (Simon’s words to his sister about Bleeders.) I shouldn’t care so much about entertainment. But I do, and honestly? I’m truly worried about this season!
Essay! Focus. An idea stirred in me—but no. “No matter the scale” was an obvious trap. I shouldn’t write about the personal miracle of a properly organized to-do list. It’s not important enough.
Also I have learned that nobody wants to hear it.
There’s a real-world virus, Marburg, which is the conceptual progenitor of the Bleeder virus. Also obviously Ebola is a source. But if I wrote about viruses, that might imply I was interested in a scientific career. And I’m definitely not. I haven’t settled on anything else yet. Which is extremely frustrating for Simon and me, because it makes our college applications even more challenging.
I decided to spend just a few minutes looking at cat videos. It’s research for my job. That’s what I tell Simon.
I was shocked by the announcement that our plane was preparing to land. I had wasted the whole flight daydreaming about Bleeders, rejecting stupid essay ideas, and watching cats. Great.
Still, I’d gotten to Atlanta. Now all I had to do was get to the right place at midnight. I’d see the Bleeders season 2 premiere (a week early!), get back to the airport, and get home tomorrow morning with nobody but Maggie the wiser. Zoe Rosenthal for the win!
I texted Maggie that I’d arrived. Then I gave myself a quiet little fist bump.