Monday, 13 June 2011

Review: Zen and Xander Undone - Amy Kathleen Ryan

Published: May 3rd 2010, Houghton Mifflin
Pages: 224 pages, hardback
Series?: Nope, this is a standalone
Acquired: Kindly sent for review by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads): Zen and Xander are sisters—truly, madly, deeply sisters, and this is their last summer together.

Zen is the "good" girl with a black belt in karate and a newfound penchant for kicking heads. Xander is a wild scientific genius with a self-destructive streak a light-year long.

They have three things in common: they’re brown-eyed blondes, they’ve noticed the boy next door has turned into a hottie, and they miss their mom, who died almost a year ago.

These sisters are surviving just fine—except Zen keeps getting into fights that are harder and harder to finish, while Xander spirals into a vortex of late-night parties, scary men, and drugs.

What’s worse, Xander has scholarships to the most coveted universities in the country, but she’s about to ruin everything. Should Zen keep trying to protect Xander, or finally let her go?

My review: After reading Vibes (which I recently reviewed) I was keen to try out another one of Amy Kathleen Ryan's books. She has a really distinct, modern style that I enjoy and I was pleased to find that this style is also present in Zen and Xander Undone, which I enjoyed just as much, if not more, than Vibes.

Zen and Xander are best friends, sisters and complete opposites - we have the well-behaved, appropriately named Zen, who loves martial arts and adhering to the rules and her contrast, Xander, a promiscuous maths genius. Yeah, slightly out of the ordinary, right? I loved the fact neither of the girls fitted into a standard YA stereotype. Maybe Xander loves maths but she loves guys just as much - how often do we see a 'smart girl' getting paid so much attention by the opposite sex?

Both girls are dealing with the grief of losing their mother and, although they are extremely close, Zen and Xander both realise that their grief is something that needs to be handled privately. Ryan handled the sensitive subject matter very sweetly and I think anybody who has suffered a similar loss will definitely relate to what both of the girls are going through and the distractions they use to try and ease the pain - Zen gets into fights and Xander flirts with men.

The stakes in Zen and Xander Undone are high - something I think a lot of YA novels fall down on so I was glad this wasn't the case here. Xander risks losing her place at a fantastic university because of her behaviour and Zen has a huge decision to make - does she try to save Xander yet again, or does she finally let her sister make her own mistakes and face the consequences alone? Well, you'll see if you pick up this gem of a novel. Highly recommended, I loved it.

First line: 'My sister, Xander, causes a scandal pretty much everywhere she goes.'

Plot: 4/5
Writing: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Cover: 3/5
Total: 15/20 (B)

Alternative cover:


  1. I really love the sound of this one, and will definitely be on the look out for it!

  2. I loved VGibes and have been meaning to pick this one up. I definitely will now thanks to your review. Those sister sound like girls I want to meet!

  3. You made me want Vibes so much with your review of that and now, again, you have made me want another Ryan book! thanks!

  4. This book waz amazing but I just wish there was a 2nd one

  5. ZEN & XANDER UNDONE is an excellent addition to any collection of books for teenage girls. Amy Kathleen Ryan takes readers on an emotional ride as her believable characters face the challenge of surviving the loss of their mother and finding a way to move on toward whatever the future might hold. She combines heartbreaking emotions with humor and a bit of fun to capture readers and take them into the lives of Zen and Xander.

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