Cover of My Year Zero by Rachel Gold. A pen and ink drawing of two women kissing, facing a page of math equations

About the Book

Title: My Year Zero
Published: 2016

Cover Story: Mathtastic
Drinking Buddy: College Kegger
Testosterone Estrogen Level: Wow
Talky Talk: Awk…ward
Bonus Factors: Evil Father, Math, Collaborative Writing
Bromance Status: That Awesome Friend in College

Cover Story: Mathtastic

A book about math and art, with math and art on the cover. And an actual drawing of the main characters, instead of overly sexualized stock models. Though part of me can’t help but wonder if the publisher wouldn’t go for two girls kissing in a photograph.

The Deal:

Sixteen-year-old Lauren lives with her father in Duluth, Minnesota. As if that weren’t trouble enough, she’s a lesbian, but she cannot meet any interesting girls. Because, you know, she lives in Duluth. Her father is an emotionally dead lawyer who expects Lauren to be the perfect daughter, one who wears dresses, maintains a flower garden, and gets perfect grades. He views her dreams of being an artist and her lesbianism as just a teenage phase. Lauren’s mother is off in Afghanistan campaigning for women’s rights, and her awesome brother Isaac is away at college.

But one day, Lauren meets Sierra, a beautiful, bisexual college student, who’s in town just for a little bit. Sierra invites Lauren to collaborate on a story that she and her friends are writing. And maybe come up to the Twin Cities and visit some time.

What starts off as a crush turns into an intense, long-distance relationship. But when Lauren visits, she meets Sierra’s friends as well. Including Blake, a nerdy, bipolar bisexual girl. One who really…clicks. But Lauren already has a girlfriend! True, things aren’t perfect. Sierra has a rather liberal idea of what it means to be faithful, and she has a bit of a spiteful side. And when they’re not having sex, the relationship is kind of bland. But that’ll all work out in time, right? Lauren shouldn’t risk what she has with Sierra for a chance with Blake.

Should she?

Drinking Buddy: College Kegger

Two pints of beer cheersing

I so want to party with Lauren, Sierra, Blake and all their friends. Seriously. A group of high school/college kids who get together in skuzzy apartments, drink beer, play nerd games, write stories, draw, DO MATH, and have sex. Just like my high school/college experience, except for that last one.

Of course, once you get past the friendship, things start to fray. Sierra and Lauren have such a great bond. Wait, Sierra was supposed to stop sleeping with her ex-boyfriend? Whoops. And Blake’s so hip and smart…but she’s bipolar, and doesn’t make the best life choices. It’s hard to know what you really want when you’re sixteen. It’s harder when there are only two dating options, they both live a hundred miles away, and you may have chosen the wrong one.

Testosterone Estrogen Level: Wow

So Lauren manages to escape her desperately controlling father for a while and spend time alone with her sexually mature girlfriend. And the author pulls no punches. Wow. I mean…wow. And then there’s Blake, who coyly suggests that she and Lauren change out of their swimsuits and share the shower…

Remember when mentioning a girl’s period in a YA book was considered controversial?

Talky Talk: Awk…ward

Lauren quickly discovers that dating a sexually liberated college student is a lot of fun in theory, but not so much in practice. Especially when your girlfriends seems only to be using you for sex. Not like Blake, who genuinely understands and likes Lauren. But what kind of person dumps her girlfriend to go pursue someone else, especially when she just had a fit about Sierra’s ex-boyfriend? And who’s to say Blake even feels the same way? Plus she lives in an entirely different city! God, are all relationships this complicated?

Yes. Yes they are. They don’t get any easier with time, but you get better at dealing with the challenges. And sometimes, the person is so worth it.

Bonus Factor: Evil Father

Darth Vader reaching out to Luke Skywalker, proclaiming 'I am your father'

With her mother off saving the world and her brother Isaac away at college, Lauren is forced to live with her father, a humorless, womanizing lawyer, who dotes on Isaac but is disappointed in Lauren. They rarely have much to do with each other. Her father is willing to let her visit her friends (provided she doesn’t mention her lesbian ‘phase’). And as long as she gets good grades, wears a dress (ugh) to her father’s work parties, and maintains the family flower garden, her dad lets her alone. But when Lauren starts talking seriously about moving to Minneapolis and studying art, that’s when Daddy lays down the law. No daughter of his is going to embarrass him like that. And when she meets Blake’s father, a guy who does weird things like take an interest in his daughter’s life and actually likes spending time with her, Lauren realizes maybe she’s getting the raw end of the family deal.

The whole art vs. business school thing was a little tropish, but it had me rooting for Lauren all the more, just to piss off her obnoxious father.

Bonus Factor: Math

Chalkboard with math equations on it

Blake is a math nerd, who sees everything–her bipolar disorder, her relationship with friends, and her love life–in terms of numbers, theorems, and equations. This is surprisingly not dull, though a lot of it was over my head.

Bonus Factor: Collaborative Story

Small cover of Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Lauren first gets to know Sierra and Blake when she’s invited to collaborate on their group’s space opera novella/graphic novel. About ten people submit chapters and artwork, contributing to the whole. Lauren takes over a minor character, Zeno, and soon turns her into a kick-ass cyber assassin and lover of The Queen, Sierra’s character. But when things start to go sour with Sierra, Zeno becomes more interested in Cypher, Blake’s character. Soon, the real-life drama spills into the story.

“Your character just got her head chopped off and died!”

“Nuh uh, it was all a dream!”

“Was not! And your character’s fat and ugly!”

“Your character’s mean and stupid!”

And so forth. This is why I write alone.

Bromance Status: That Awesome Friend in College

When I was in high school, it was great reading about the cool older kids living in the dorms. And now that I’m long graduated…it’s nice reliving those days. And maybe romanticizing them, just a bit.

FTC full disclosure: I received a free e-copy of this book from the author, but no money or pictures of me as a space cowboy.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.