Zia Erases the World

Image of Zia Erases the World
Release Date: 
April 26, 2022
Viking Books for Young Readers
Reviewed by: 

“Barton’s story is magical and deep, and within this beautiful story hope and help can be found.”

Middle school is not everything Zia hoped for. Life was going along just fine until the Shadoom arrived—a feeling that all is lost and darkness is enveloping her even as she sits in her room, or in class, or riding in the car with her mom. She can’t describe it, can’t explain it to her mother. Instead, her mother continues to call her Sunshine Girl and offer stories they dub Lightning Bugs, fun, happy stories to add joy and brightness to a difficult time.

Words and stories mean a lot to Zia, and she is constantly creating new words, like the Shadoom—a mixture of shadows and doom. When Zia’s yiayia—her grandmother—comes to live with them, she brings her own kind of Shadoom. Her words are leaving her with age and illness, causing tension and stress in the household. She also brings a dictionary, and Zia finds comfort in such a book.

“Dictionaries are heavy things, whole histories packed onto pages thin as spun silk. They are keepers of lights and darkness, shimmer and shadow. Each word a patchwork of ideas stitched by many hands over many years. String enough words together, and you can hold all we have ever seen or felt or suffered.”

Yiayia’s dictionary has special powers. By accident, Zia discovers she can erase difficult things from the world, starting with the school pool, where she suffers daily humiliation. She erases the word pool, and her troubles with phys ed class and swimming disappear.

“A trill of excitement thrums down my spine. This is exactly what I need. I have the C. Scuro Dictionary: 13th Edition onto my lap. Nothing drastic, I decide. Like Mr. Brockmeier says, every experiment should begin with a controlled set of variables. Keep it simple. I’ll start with PEACH.”

Peaches disappear, taking with them her negative feelings attached to the fruit. She moves on to greater concepts, like fear and pain. But taking these concepts from the world doesn’t make her feel better—in fact, it makes life harder for everyone around her. Zia has to come to terms with the idea that perhaps erasing things doesn’t have the desired effect. Instead, it changes everything, not always for the better.

“But now that I’ve removed a few words myself, I feel differently. Words exist to help us understand and describe the world around us. If no one remembers what they mean, then they’re not really helping anyone.”

Instead of erasing words, Zia must come to terms with what it means to exist in the world as she is, even with the Shadoom hovering over her. She must learn what the Shadoom is, and how to deal with it in the existing world, rather than changing the world around her.

Zia Erases the World is a thoughtful, gentle book that deals with depression in children in a way that is helpful and kind. In the author’s note Bree Barton explains her own experience with depression, and that the book is an attempt to help children going through this darkness and despair

“I was eleven years old when I faced my first major depression. The Shadoom seized me without warning, and my world went dark. . . . It took me many years to understand that mental illness is simply another kind of illness. Just like bodies get sick, so do brains.”

This book is helpful not only for children to see an image of depression, but for adults who have children who deal with it. How can parents and trusted adults help the young people around them? How can children feel loved and hopeful even in the midst of pain and hopelessness? Barton’s story is magical and deep, and within this beautiful story hope and help can be found.

Highly recommended.