What happens when you give a book full of maths jokes to someone who hasn’t voluntarily looked at an equation since they were fifteen? Well, apparently, they can still manage to enjoy it, as happened to me with this book, even if they can’t relate to the plot.
I thought that Zenn Diagram was well-written — there’s a lot of humour in the writing style, and while some of the specifically mathsy jokes weren’t quite my cup of tea, I do appreciate nerd humour and bad puns and the fact that these played a big part in the friendship-relationship between Eva and Zenn in this book, because most of my most meaningful friendships are full of bad puns too.
However, I think I would have liked this book more if I could relate to it a bit more, which would have required me to be either straight or American or both. While I’ve read many books that I couldn’t relate to on a personal level and enjoyed them, with contemporaries I think there needs to be some kind of shared, universal experience to draw me in, and this didn’t have that.
Well, maybe I wouldn’t need to be straight to relate to it, but I’d need to be interested in relationships and sex or some kind (and I’m not). It’s very romance focused and a lot of it revolves around Eva’s frustration with not being able to touch people due to the visions (‘fractals’) she sees when she does.
As someone who is asexual and aromantic and generally not a tactile person except with like four people in the entire world, I found this difficult to relate to, and I’ll never be able to make sense of decisions people make based on romantic feelings because I don’t understand romantic feelings full stop. I am bad at romance okay? Which made that aspect of the book hard to relate to, and that was a big part of the book.
My reaction when people start making out in a church: ” *rolls eyes* #str8ppl”. Like, why. Why do that. CONTROL YOURSELVES AND YOUR HORMONES PLEASE IT’S NOT THAT BIG A DEAL. I will never understand kissing.
As for why it might have worked for me if I was American, well, that’s because the other big aspect of the book, or one of them, was college applications and scholarships and trying to figure out how on earth you’ll afford the horrendously high fees. And I’m British, so while our tuition is higher than it used to be and my rent is horrible, thanks to Student Finance England and our much more sensible system, I will never be in the position of trying to find hundreds of thousands of pounds to pay for my education, nor am I dependent on winning scholarships to be able to go to uni.
If there’s one thing that makes me grateful for the UK’s system, it’s reading YA fiction where characters can’t afford college because the US is broken.
SO, as you can see, there were a couple of major aspects of the book that were so far outside my experience as a British non-mathsy person not interested in relationships, and that made it difficult to get fully invested. I wanted the characters to succeed, sure, but I didn’t have the personal connection I’d have had with a book I could relate to on a more personal level.
(There’s also loads of complicated family backstory stuff which, given my very conventional and normal family, I *also* could not relate to, but I think that was not meant to be as universal an experience as the whole ‘first boyfriend and also college’ part of the book.)
One other problem with the book was that Eva was occasionally somewhat slut-shamey in her narration. Especially near the beginning. She made quite a few offhand comments about other girls, and referred to her baby sisters’ potty training (which involved bribes) in the context of them growing up to be girls who would “give it away” for any guy who bought them dinner — which seemed both entirely unnecessary and inappropriate in the situation, and also totally slut-shaming. I wasn’t very impressed with that. I felt she got over a bit by the end of the book though, and was more accepting of the people around her; if she’d kept it up I probably wouldn’t have liked her at all.
Anyway. On the whole, this was well-written, with quite a lot of humour, but it was just a wee bit too far outside my own experiences and interests to fully engage me on a personal level.