Saturday, June 15, 2019

Review: After Zero by Christina Collins

After Zero by Christina Collins

Genre: Middlegrade contemporary
Pages: 256
Publication date: September 2018
Content warning: Bullying, mental illness, death, family secrets, hunting
Available at: Amazon | Book Depository
*This post contains affiliate links. I earn a commission from qualifying purchases.
Elise carries a notebook full of tallies, each page marking a day spent at her new public school, each stroke of her pencil marking a word spoken. A word that can't be taken back. Five tally marks isn't so bad. Two is pretty good. But zero? Zero is perfect. Zero means no wrong answers called out in class, no secrets accidentally spilled, no conversations to agonize over at night when sleep is far away.

But now months have passed, and Elise isn't sure she could speak even if she wanted to―not to keep her only friend, Mel, from drifting further away―or to ask if anyone else has seen her English teacher's stuffed raven come to life. Then, the discovery of a shocking family secret helps Elise realize that her silence might just be the key to unlocking everything she's ever hoped for.

You know those people on Twitter who are always yammering about how they want to “see themselves” in books? Well, this novel confirmed that I’m definitely not one of those people. Just like the main character, I had selective mutism as a child. I’ve never seen it portrayed accurately in any kind of media before. Reading about it mostly reminded me of how miserable I was. I think I’d prefer to leave the unpleasant stuff in my real life, thank you very much.

I can confirm that the author did her research. This is an accurate portrayal of mutism. My experience with it was pretty much exactly the same as Elise’s.

It’s amazing how few words a person can get by with.After Zero

After Zero is a story about secrets. Elise is afraid to tell anyone that she struggles to speak and that she occasionally sees odd things—like her teacher’s stuffed raven coming to life. Elise’s mother also has secrets. She keeps her daughter isolated for reasons that Elise does not understand. Until recently, Elise was not allowed to go to school or attend parties. Her mother sometimes disappears for days. There are rooms in Elise’s own house where her mother doesn’t allow her to go. When Elise stumbles across a box of photos and children’s toys, she discovers that her mother may have a troubling past.

Why does this book not get more hype? It’s really good! It’s well-researched, beautifully written, and full of vivid imagery. I love the magical/fantasy elements. Since the story is told from Elise’s perspective, the reader is never sure if something is really happening, or if the character just thinks it’s happening. The plot isn’t action-packed, but there are plenty of twists to keep you guessing.

Elise suffers through some heartbreaking problems. Her issues are explored realistically and in-depth, but they’re not overwhelming. It’s not a depressing story. Despite her circumstances and mental health issues, Elise manages to make friends.

This is the kind of book that needs to be required reading in schools. Elise has to deal with teachers and classmates who don’t understand her illness and think she’s being deliberately difficult. She can’t advocate for herself easily because she can’t speak. Books like this one promote empathy and patience. The world could use more of those things. I think most quiet, lonely children will be able to relate to Elise.

It all comes down to the first thing you think of when you wake up. That first image or idea before the filtering of conscious thought takes over, while you’re still in between. Whatever you think of, that’s the reason you get up in the first place. That’s the reason you get out of bed, into your clothes, into your shoes, and out the door.After Zero

I really don’t have any complaints about this book. If you like the magical elements in your stories to be fully explained, you might be disappointed. The weirdness didn’t bother me, though. It keeps things interesting and fits Elise’s character.

This is one of my favorite books of 2019 (so far). If you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for?


  1. You totally make me want to read this book! Awesome review. :)

  2. This sounds like a sweet story. I've seen the story before but didn't know what it was about.

  3. You said the magic words - It's not depressing. I love, when a book can take a tough situation and keep it from getting too heavy. I have read quite a few books featuring people with selective mutism (and even had a student one year with selective mutism), and they were quite different from each other. Glad to hear you think the rep was good though.

  4. I'd already added this book to my TBR because of you, but now I just requested the audiobook from my library. Sounds fantastic!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  5. I love this book. It's so important to talk about illness in books and help people understand that people like poking fun at things that are different because it makes them feel better about themselves, but guess what?! everyone is different! Love this, really.

  6. Wow After Zero sounds interesting and I like the quotes you shared. Great review.

  7. I feel the EXACT same way about characters with anxiety disorders. I do not want to read those -at all- because they stress me out more. I feel your pain!

  8. I haven't heard of this one, but I'm definitely adding it to my TBR! It sounds like an amazing read. Thanks for sharing!

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

    1. I guess I had heard of it, because it was only on my TBR, but now I'm moving it up the list. ;) I'm going to see if my library has a copy, and request it if they don't. <3

  9. Great review! This definitely sounds like a book that many kids should read.

  10. You have to love a good read that is researched well, I am so glad that you loved this one!

  11. I'm glad to hear that it represented mutism accurately! Definitely taking note of this one and looking into it ASAP. Great review!

  12. Sounds like an interesting read.

  13. I'll definitely add this to Goodreads, look for it on Hoopla, and add it to the Kindle list that I check for ebook deals most everyday. I didn't have selective mutism, but I had something that was like stuttering without the stutter part, if that makes sense, it was difficult to get words out if I wasn't around immediate family only. I can only imagine how you felt struggling to speak at all. Thanks for the heads up on this one! 👍✨

  14. This sounds like a fantastic read. I love how the author has done her research on mutism. I'm going to check it out and see about adding it to my classroom library. I think a lot of students can relate to not feeling understood (a big reason why some students act out in class or further isolate themselves from teachers and peers).

  15. Interesting. I can usually go with the flow when there's magic...usually.