Summer Jobs Week Review: How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True by Sarah Strohmeyer

How Zoe Made Her Dreams (Mostly) Come True by Sarah Strohmeyer. Balzer + Bray, 2013. Currently available.

Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

16248148Face Value: There’s a pink tinge to this photo, right? I don’t think I’m imagining that this photo has some sort of pink color filter. I’m guessing that the publishers aren’t exactly marketing this to young male readers. The photo on the cover is cute and everything, but it doesn’t really capture the tone of the story. The park in the photo is much more carnival-esque than how Fairyland is described.

Does it break the slate? It does. Zoe is a very smart and self-aware young woman. Even though her job is weird and extremely challenging, she gives it 100%. I love her occasional spurts of activism, too. Sometimes she gets passionate and does something outrageous because she cares a lot. I also like Zoe because she’s not quick to characterize other women as stereotypes. Even when she sees them at their worst, Zoe considers the other factors that might lead to irrational behavior.

Who would we give it to? Summer interns who are stressing out about their jobs would find Zoe to be a kindred spirit. In the romance department, this book is tame enough that it would be totally acceptable for readers from middle school on up. Readers old enough to have a part-time job will understand some of the pressure Zoe experiences.

Review: Sarah Strohmeyer is a really funny writer. Every chapter has a few good zingers, and the dialogue is always witty. I admit that I occasionally paused to think, “Are there any people who actually speak with such cleverness all the time?” But then I remembered how much I enjoyed reading the book and let it slide. If you can accept the constant zingers of Strohmeyer’s writing, then you can relax and enjoy the wacky setting she has created for this story of outrageous summer employment.

Zoe Kiefer and her cousin/BFF Jess have banded together for the summer of their dreams. They have applied and been accepted to intern at Fairyland, the New Jersey theme park designed to bring fairy tales to life. (Fairyland is basically the fictional knock-off of Disneyland.) Interns at Fairyland are expected to commit. There’s no Internet access, no connection to the outside world, only total absorption in the Wow! attitude that makes Fairyland so enchanting for young visitors.

Of course, everyone who works at Fairyland is a little…um…offbeat. You would have to be in order to live as a prince or princess for the summer. Since the actor interns are expected to fully embody their roles, that means lots of primping and working out and narcissism. There are a few good folks in the bunch. Zoe connects with a few of the “furries” – the actors with lesser, animal roles such as the Big Bad Wolf or Puss in Boots. Zoe doesn’t even get to play a character role. Instead, she is assigned to be the personal assistant to the Queen, who is the corporate manager of Fairyland.

The internship experience is made even more intense by the opportunity to win a huge “Dream and Do grant” at the end of the summer. This $25,000 pot of money is awarded to the interns with the best work ethic, commitment to role, and ‘Fairyland spirit’. Naturally, everyone wants the money. And many of the interns will do cutthroat things to move to the top of the candidacy list. As the personal assistant to the queen, Zoe is privy to the less savory goings-on of the Fairyland staff. Sometimes she wants to get involved and sometimes she would rather not know about it.

The Queen is the employer from hell. She’s worse than Anna Wintour, or excuse me, Miranda Priestly, in The Devil Wears Prada. Despite the outrageous demands from her boss, Zoe steps it up and tries her best to do the job well. When she’s not working, she’s doing her best to follow Fairyland rules. But you can’t be perfect all of the time. When Zoe breaks rules and gets other people in trouble, she doesn’t try to save herself first. She does some basic self-preservation, but she also takes measures to lesson the consequences that will be leveled upon the people she cares most about. It is this compassion that makes Zoe such a warm and pleasant character to read. With her position working alongside the Queen, Zoe could easily weasel her way into the Dream and Do grant. Instead, she uses her minor role of power to boost her cousin’s changes of getting the grant.

Strohmeyer crafts an engaging and slightly wacky environment of fairy tale madness as she describes the inner workings of Fairyland. It’s an extremely detailed set-up, which is why the ending was a let down. Everything builds into a situation that tests Zoe’s patience, intelligence, and ethics – and then fizzles as we learn it was a set-up. I was sad because I had built up so much confidence in Zoe’s strength as a character, and then I didn’t get to see her react under pressure as I hoped she might.

As I mentioned earlier this week, I have had some atypical summer jobs, but never anything like Zoe’s internship. She is a true Slatebreaker, sporting a brilliant combination of work ethic and wit. You can laugh at Zoe’s workplace predicaments without feeling schaudenfreude at her misfortune. Zoe can handle it, so we can admire her instead.

Reviewed from a copy purchased at Fireside Books in West Bend, WI.

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