Expectations can harm a book's ratings as much as a poorly orchestrated story or a badly drawn character. That may be the case here. When I first read the plot synopsis of Zebra Forest I thought 'Here's a book filled with magic. This may even be metafiction!!!' Zebra Forest is neither of these things—it's a straight-forward slow and thoughtful story, a story about family, truth, and redemption.
Despite not being all I had hoped, Zebra Forest did prove something to me. In 2012, I set out to discover whether children's and young adult lit had any merit. I've read some good stories (mostly okay ones), but until Zebra Forest I hadn't read one that was anything more than a “good story.” Children's books are filled with faced-paced, plot-driven action where the characters are flat and there is never a time—for the characters or the reader—to pause and reflect. Zebra Forest proves this doesn't have to be the case as this is a very character-driven and thoughtful novel where the plot takes a backseat.
Unfortunately, I just didn't connect with this one. The long ramblings about Treasure Island were lost on me. Setting the story in 1980 allowed parallels to be drawn to the Iranian occupation of the American embassy, but didn't seem to help this story. I couldn't identify with Annie and Rew, not because they were children, but because they were foreign to me.
Regardless of my personal inability to relate to the novel and to enjoy it greatly, I recognize that Zebra Forest is well done. I recommend it for anyone seeking more thought-provoking children's literature. And it has given me hope. Good literature knows no age limit—now I must seek out that book I know must be out there.