Parent Involvement: Be aware of what your kids are thinking and feeling regarding the content of the book.
Z On Location – Book Two of Z Yang in the Contemporary Character Series
I was really surprised with how disappointed I was in this book, and how upset I was by the book.
It is abundantly clear that Z was created as a character with a job to do for American Girl. (Not the least of which is just being Korean-american because their character selection of any asian descent is abysmal) In the first book, The Real Z, her “job” honestly made more sense; Z creates Stop Motion Animation videos with her own American Girl dolls (talk about Meta.) so there’s an obvious message – Buy more dolls! Buy Mini-dolls FOR your dolls! Get creative in what you do with them! Perfect sense from American Girl’s perspective.
But in book 2, Z On Location, it seems like they are trying to get kids off technology, or to make them use it more responsibly? For as much as it’s talked about is really unclear. The message they were trying to deliver, whatever it may be, is so blatantly heavy handed in this book it actually feels like you, as the reader are being beaten over the head with it. It’s not artistic. It’s not even particularly good writing. It’s just There, beating you. Ad nauseum. For 102 of the 130 pages of the book, and in the remaining 28 pages there are numerous scattered references of reflection of the “lessons” taught in the book, but with a positive spin instead of literal punishment. And by Numerous, I mean I counted 10 Separate references on the last FOUR PAGES.
I already was a little unimpressed with Z personally, but in book 1, I felt it was superficial. Book one reads as a thinly veiled American Girl infomercial (Did you know Seattle is one of the cities that has an American Girl store? If you didn’t you’d learn they do in book one.) Z is from Seattle, I am a Seattle native, I’ve lived here for my entire life, with the exception of a few years, and it’s painfully – Painfully obvious Z’s author doesn’t live here, maybe has never even been here? And at least is deeply unaware of the actual culture of the area. The research that is normally truly top notch from American Girl is… somewhere far away from Z and “Z’s Seattle”. One of the most blatant examples of that is in the first chapter of book two, when Z and her family are on Mt Rainier looking down at Seattle at the base of the mountain. Unfortunately, in Real Seattle, Mt Rainier is well over 70 miles from downtown, and Seattle, cannot be seen from the mountain, unless you’re at the peak – which they weren’t. They speak of Tacoma as if it is some far off town they have to be on the road for quite a long time to get to (Z’s mom says after quite an extended period of time “We’ll be in Tacoma in just over an hour!”). From Queen Anne hill, where Z lives, to Tacoma is less than 40 minutes. These aren’t hard things to research. The whole characterization of the area is like a giant stereotype of how the east coast sees the west coast. Interestingly enough, the Author lives in Florida. I was not surprised to discover this.
Take cultural annoyance and put it on top of the Vacation Bible School Gone Wrong haranguing moral of the story, and you can see where Z On Location became one of my least favorite AG books, ever. (Tenney Shares the Stage will, hopefully, always take that cake. This is not a category that needs more competition!)
Z can’t do Anything right in this book. Let me explain it this way: There are 12 chapters in the book. And Eight of the chapters are Named for what she gets in trouble for in that chapter. She checks her phone whenever it dings and then gets sucked into her feeds, she gets lost in her own world and doesn’t hear what her parents are saying. She’s too busy thinking about how she can make whatever she’s doing look cooler to post or send it to her friends. That is a really legitimate issue, one that a Lot of kids and families Really struggle with. I get that, I’ve parented a teenager in this decade. It’s a serious problem.
However, in my opinion, many of the issues Z Actually gets in trouble for are because her mom’s expectations of her are Way beyond Z’s capabilities. And that’s not fair. Z’s mom is a film professor and documentary filmmaker, and she gets a grant to finish her documentary and she asks Z to come along on a road trip to be her production assistant and do these filmings of interviews about people who work in high technology. The first shoot goes pretty good, Despite the fact that Z’s mom assigned her to work sound, something Z has no experience with and her mom has utterly neglected to give Z Any training whatsoever in how to do it, what and how to set it up, etc. She did bring along a binder of instruction manuals, but no direct information. But despite that, it goes ok. Interview two, her mom has her set up some more equipment and Mom is stressed because the interviewee is… high maintenance. So she yells at Z for not getting the extra cameras for wide angles, lights and sound equipment set up fast enough. As someone who literally used to work in video production, let me assure you that one 12 year old girl with no training would have no hope of getting that set up in a reasonable time – and accurately. She then has Z hold a boom mic during the interview (That’s the kind on the large sticks which are held over the person speaking.) Those things are heavy. Z thought she turned her phone off, but it vibrates. The person being interviewed is not graceful about being interrupted. Which flips her mom out even more. Then, feeling self conscious and guilty for her interruption, Z accidently lets the mic drift into the top of the camera view. Which thoroughly seals the deal in regards to her mom and the interviewee. Z and her mom are thrown out of the office, all their equipment in tow to pack up in the lobby. Mom is Not at all happy, and doesn’t mince any words about letting Z know that. She remarks on how disappointed she is in Z, she thought she could be more professional. You may not have been on your phone, but you weren’t 100% present, which is just as bad. (well no kidding, Mom, you totally threw her to the wolves and treated an untrained 12 year old like she was one of your advanced film students.) For everyone involved, the moral of This chapter is that children don’t master their parent’s professions just by being in their presence, and apparently this is Z’s fault.
As a result of Z’s “incompetence”, her mom flies one of her students down to meet them to be an actual assistant, literally never figuring out that training her daughter to do the job she expects her to do might help this situation. Z is deeply hurt by the addition of Nora, and immediately doesn’t like her. And from that point on almost every event they film Z screws up somehow that her mom just cannot deal with, and gives her lectures about being too into herself, into her technology and not being present for what she’s doing. (this topic may or may not have any real bearing on the mistakes she’s made, it mostly comes across as just “The thing” her mom sees as “Wrong with” Z, so she keeps harping on it.)
The Only real mistake Z makes in the entire book, is when they are at an experimental virtual reality company and the man says they aren’t allowed to take pictures with any of the prototypes — but she does. And then she sends them to her friends, and her friends post them online, and tag the business and Z, and the company calls and says they’re not welcome to return and demands all footage they took be destroyed. Yeah. That’s a totally big deal, and FINALLY something Z actually had enough information to know she was going against what was desired. And WHY did her mom, Nora or the guy not stop her taking pictures when she very blatantly was? Well. Because plot-line.
Her mom is furious. She takes her phone, takes her computer, takes away basically everything except her clothes and bans her from so much as being on the same block as any future filming for the movie. So for the next couple of days, Z helps them get ready to go and then stays in their RV alone, in June in California, for the hours that her Mom and Nora have gone off to film, walking several blocks away to make sure Z is far enough away from them.
I mean seriously, you guys. This is an American Girl book?
The last stop of their trip was to VidCon in Anaheim, (which seemed to have moved to San Francisco by the end of the book – but we’ve already discussed that this author isn’t particularly spectacular in the entire writing arena). Z’s mom says if Z hadn’t already made plans to meet friends from all over the world there, she would never have let Z go after everything she pulled, but she lets Z go anyway. This is the point where things miraculously turn from other people punitively punishing her to her telling Literally anyone who will listen how much she’s screwed up recently but she’s learned so much about detaching from technology and actually “living IRL”!! (IRL = In Real Life)
But, just then, Vegan Film Student Nora gets food poisoning from her veggie burger!! And her mom needs Z to come rescue her shoot because she can’t do everything by herself. And so Z drops everything to save her mom and, gosh, it sure is a good thing that they left her alone in that RV for hours and hours, because she practiced setting up and taking down everything she could, for 5 hours a day, so she was really good at it and totally saved the day.
If I wasn’t writing this review I’d have thrown the book against a wall and given up with only 20 pages left to go.
Z then spends the remainder of the book retelling and retelling and retelling how it’s so important to not focus on what you can post from an experience but to actually have the experience and maybe post something if you remember it.
She then says to her mom, “Thanks mom. This has been an amazing trip! I’ve learned so much about making films And about being in the moment!”
“I’m glad to hear you say that.” Mom responds
“I think it’s always going to be hard, though.” Z says, “I’ve been thinking about it a lot and realized that, for me, sharing online is almost like part of the experience. If I don’t get to share it later, it’s almost like it didn’t completely happen.”
Mom says ok well, how about you make a wrap up vlog post about your day?
Which mostly left me feeling like What the heck were the last 126 pages of my life about, then? Since her mom had spent All of them harping on Z to not post on her vlog, get off her phone and not “get sucked in” to technology.
If your kid needs a swift and repeated kick to the proverbial head regarding technology use, perhaps this is an interesting teaching tool. I can’t imagine anyone finding it enjoyable entertainment.
I do still have hope for Z. Tenney is getting a 4th book next week, so it seems like the Contemporary Characters will be getting longer-than-normal series. Z is an interesting character with So Much Potential! But this book is just… Not that. I don’t know if they need an entirely new author, or just a harder editor, but something is going to have to change for Z’s series to continue. I appreciated how Z’s family handled technology in Book One (The Real Z), where Z needs to run all her videos and responses to comments by her parents before posting them – that’s a great precedence to set! Where did THAT family go? Because it wasn’t in this book.
Read Z On Location for yourself and let me know what you think!
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