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Eric Giroux
Zodiac Pets
Eric Giroux, author

In his follow-up to Ring On Deli, Eric Giroux returns to the hard-luck hamlet of Pennacook, Massachusetts, for a comic novel about small towns and democracy. Wendy Zhou has just lost her father and is off to a brawling start in Pennacook, where floods have canalized roads and “dumpster living” is the next big thing. She finds a new sense of mission after joining the other middle-schoolers staffing the town paper, the Pennacook Beat. But when dark forces--including a curmudgeonly tech visionary--aim to sell the town (“some assembly required”) and plunk a giant dome over it, can a still-shattered Wendy find the strength to fight them?

This potent novel of growing up and facing the world delves into the intersection of democracy and everyday life in the small town of Pennacook, introduced in Giroux’s Ring on Deli, where challenges such as floods and roaming boars upend lives, with citizens mired in a state of fear and resignation. Amidst this backdrop we meet Wendy Zhou, a middle schooler, who emerges as the protagonist to confront the stagnant status quo of water-filled roads. Her journey to Pennacook follows the death of her father, with her mother consumed by apathy, distant and uninvolved. Despite this, Wendy’s sharp observations and budding writing skills lead her to volunteer at the Beat, the town’s weekly newspaper under the haphazard leadership of Graham A. Bundt. Bundt’s journalistic approach leaves her searching for tangible evidence and a newsworthy mentality. The amusingly drawn Beat staff—a “piccolo playing snot named Delmore,” Denise, and Sall—struggle to work as a team.

As Wendy’s curiosity ignites a mission to unravel the mysteries behind the town’s plight. Giroux weaves a gripping narrative, laced with humor, that interrogates and encourages reflection on individuals’ susceptibility to the influence of those in power. As Wendy navigates the complexities of middle school relationships, or in her case the lack thereof, she becomes increasingly aware of the townspeople’s unquestioning acceptance of their situation without question, a classic coming-of-age discovery—adults don’t always actually know what they’re doing!—that here is developed with incisive power.

This quest persists into Wendy’s college years. As a senior, she digs deeper into the reasons behind Pennacook’s decline and seeks companionship with Lena whose tendencies mirror Wendy’s suicidal father. The story serves as a poignant reminder of how easy it is to succumb to the status quo, relinquishing our responsibility in the process. Through Wendy’s eyes, readers see how unquestioning acceptance can lead to our own undoing, making this a compelling and thought-provoking read.

Takeaway: Resonant novel of a young journalist digging at hard truths about her hometown.

Comparable Titles: Paul Murray’s The Bee Sting, Brandon J. Wolf’s A Place for Us.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A