He smiles slightly. “She’s taking you clothes shopping. Always a good sign.” I’d like to brag, but I know things are hopeless. “She’s out of my league. I don’t predict much luck on that front.” Arnold continues to pack up his equipment. “Yeah, well, they said we’d have moon cities by 1990. And no one predicted the internet or digital cameras. Sometimes the best guesses turn out wrong, and the most improbable theories come to pass.”
– The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak by Brian Katcher
The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak by Brian Katcher
The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak is a young adult novel about two high school students, Ana Watson and Zak Duquette, who despite their differences must work together find Ana’s missing brother Clayton. Ana is a bright student, highly dedicated to her studies, who is a member of the quiz bowl team at their school primarily to expand her college resume. Zak is a lover of all things science fiction and fantasy who just tries to get by in school. He is caught plagiarizing a paper, and is forced by his teacher to be a back-up on the quiz bowl team – even though the tournament happens to fall on the same weekend as his favorite convention, Washingcon. Zak makes the mistake of telling Ana’s brother Clayton all about the convention, and after the tournament on Saturday, Clayton leaves the hotel by himself to head to the convention. When Ana and Zak discover him missing, they team up to find him. Zak of course has his own rich history at the convention, but Ana is brand new, and finds herself struggling with the culture.
This novel was, first and foremost, a novel built on character development. Ana starts the novel seeming somewhat insufferable: she is obsessively dedicated to rules and policies and her never-ending studies, and even when her difficult family situation is explained, I still did not find her terribly sympathetic. It also was not enough, for me, to see Ana break those rules – she needed a significant perspective change to win me over. However, that was delivered. Ana’s time at the convention shows her grow from uptight to rebellious to, in the end, empathetic of her friends and family, able to understand finally that she did not know as much as she thought, and perhaps ought to do more listening than she did talking. Zak was not as grating to me at the start, but he still had a lot to learn. Zak, while demonstrating the same tenacity that Ana shows, is otherwise her opposite: he has little respect for school or his teachers, does not care much about how his mother or stepfather see him, and does not care much where he will end up in his career. What was perhaps interesting was that the lesson that Zak faced was essentially the same as Ana’s: he needed to learn to listen to others and consider their view, rather than stubbornly assuming that they held little value to him. And Zak, too, managed this development quite well by the end.
The primary plot point in this novel was, of course, its romance: Ana and Zak have a great deal to learn from each other, and as they do, they fall in love. This was perhaps the weak thread of the book. The novel was of course written for the young adult crowd, but still I felt that something larger should be at stake than the relationship of a high school boy and girl. Some overtones were suggested – they were both gearing up for college, and then a career after – but I wish more had been made of that. Without giving spoilers I will mention that an unexpected bit of conflict popped up at the ending that did suggest that something larger was at stake, but that seemed more like a distraction to me from the larger point of the book, which was the relationship. This may be personal preference, but I would have liked to see some sort of significant resolution in the family situation of either Ana or Zak (not just hope for the future, but a true resolution between them and a significant step in that direction) rather than throwing those conflicts in on the side.
The setting, however, was fantastic for this plot (especially this relationship) to develop. Zak is a frequent attendant of the convention, Washingcon, and knew most of the people there. He was familiar with all the events, and often had a personal history with them. Ana, however, knew next to nothing about Washingcon, any of the events, or the fandoms demonstrated there. This provided endless small conflicts between the two of them, as well as separately, and was undoubtedly the primary factor in their effective character development throughout the plot.
In all, I would rate this book a 6 out of 10. The plot felt a bit predictable, and I wasn’t sufficiently invested in the romance, but I definitely enjoyed the lighthearted plot and appreciated the characters’ ability to break their molds.
By the way – my sister, The Effervescent Bookworm, also reviewed this! Please go check her out at The Effervescent Bookworm.