Contemporary Character 2017: The Real Z

Published: 2017. Author: Jen Calonita, book design Susanne Lagasa Photos by April Mersinger Photography, Michael Frost for Scholastic, Eric Isselee/Shutterstock, Inc.


Pacific Northwest resident Suzanne "Z" Yang loves making movies. Her mother teaches film at a nearby university and her dad's a computer expert, so she has great resources to help her with planning, shooting, and editing movies. She does a lot of stop-motion animation with her American Girl dolls and posts the videos online; they're very popular. So while she's excited, it's a not a huge surprise that she's selected to make a documentary about her city for a film festival in Seattle (it's called "CloudSong" but the timing and setup of it...it's SIFF, the Seattle Independent Film Festival). She has six weeks and a nice chunk of change from the festival to film. She shares the news with her friends right away, and they brainstorm ideas about how to make her film stand out.

Z jumps right into shooting different scenes. One of her friends is part of a band, and they agree to cover "Singing in the Rain" for it. Her other friends are on board to help her, too. But Z is so focused on the contest that she lets a few other things slide, like the school project she's working on with her best friend, Lauren (group projects SUCK). Lauren and some of Z's other friends feel pushed to the side, and until Z realizes that she can't just live in one aspect of her life and apologizes, they're annoyed with her. Z finds a way to balance all of her interests with the contest, and is able to put together a rough shoot of what she has. She invites her friends, online and in Seattle, to watch it together.

Z's friends agree that it's very well-shot, but there's something off about most of the footage. It feels more like a commercial for Seattle. It doesn't feel like it has Z's touch on it. Some of the scenes, like of her friend's band performing in the rain, do feel authentic and unique though. Z accepts the constructive criticism well, and thinks about how she can improve her film. She wants to tell not just A story, but HER story. Z re-edits what she's filmed and gets some more footage, changing her focus to being more "a day in the life" from her perspective. When she's satisfied with her film, she submits Zeattle and waits for the results of the contest.

A short time later, Z gets the news that she won second place! (First went to someone who did a documentary focusing on the Seattle Underground.) Her film will be shown at the film festival! It's not first place so it doesn't have the prize money she was hoping to donate to her school's AV club, but she's going to have her work shown in a real film festival! When the big day arrives, Z even gets interviewed on the red carpet. With this under her belt, Z can hardly wait to see what happens next.


Dedicated to Keiran Cook, "a true American Girl and an excellent first reader."

This book is very fast-paced. Z and her friends are all very energetic and seem to be doing everything at top speed. Makes it a very fast and engaging read.

A lot of the mentions of Seattle fit pretty well with the city. The only thing that really stood out to me as not Seattle was how many people were using umbrellas. Most of us in the greater Seattle area have sort of given up on umbrellas and don't bother unless it's really pouring or we're dressed up for something; it's usually people from out-of-town with umbrellas. Since the rain we usually have is fairly light drizzle and it's often breezy, umbrellas aren't as common as you might expect. So while it makes sense for Z to have rain gear for her camera equipment, people carrying them is a bit odder.

Z has a dalmatian named Popcorn.

Z's mom probably teaches at Seattle Pacific University. They live on Queen Anne hill and her university is close to their house--SPU's on Queen Anne.

Z's friends are a fairly diverse group; she's Korean, one friend is Hispanic, one lives in London (online friend), one uses a wheelchair (also an online friend; they all met at a con). But it's not shoved in your face, and just comes up naturally. Plus the characters are all well-rounded. For example, one girl isn't just the girl in the wheelchair; she's the girl who loves to make online videos and plays basketball too.

An Asian character in Seattle makes a lot of sense: being closer to Asia than the East Coast, there are a lot of people here of Asian descent. Just in my family, I have three aunts, an uncle, three first cousins, a brother-in-law, two nieces, a nephew, and four first cousins once removed who are all or part Korean, Vietnamese, or Filipino. Some were actually born in Asia, some have been here their whole lives.

Z's best friend plays soccer and her favorite soccer ball is bright green. It should have been a Sounders ball; Seattle's pro soccer team colors are "rave green" (a sort of kelly green), "Sounder blue" (a sort of slightly greyish royal blue), and "Cascade shale" (dark grey, almost black).

It's so weird to read about American Girl dolls in an American Girl book.

There are a lot of videos in the style of Z's on the American Girl Youtube channel here.

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