Day Zero by Kelly deVos is one of those review copies I never quite got around to reading last year. However, one of the benefits of not reading a book promptly is not having to wait for the sequel. Instead, you can read both the original and the sequel back to back. This was my approach to Day Zero and its sequel, Day One.
A funny thing happened when I finished one and started the other, however. It quickly became apparent that the version of Day Zero I read had some major changes made to it before final publication. My version of Day Zero revolved around Jinx and her stepsiblings, Tyrell and Makeeba Anderson, who just happened to be Black and from Atlanta. Let me tell you that when reading a political thriller, the entire context of the story changes a lot when two of the main characters are Black and from the south. As 2020 showed the world, their experiences dealing with the police are completely different than a white person’s experiences.
While not perfect and definitely in need of some sensitivity reader feedback, I liked the version of Day Zero I read. Ms. deVos uses Tyrell and Makeeba to address police brutality and systemic racism before the world acknowledged it. Even better, she acknowledges that the Anderson siblings come from wealth but that wealth does not protect them from racial prejudice. The story has a completely different feel when Tyrell and Makeeba Anderson from Atlanta become Toby and MacKenna Novak from Denver. Suddenly, the politics of the story, which is the entire plot, are much less inclusive and incomplete.
The thing is, I rather liked the politics in my version of Day Zero. It is all too easy to envision 45 doing something as extreme as declaring a national emergency and calling the military to step into police roles. Even better, the opposition addresses what could happen if we fully adopted socialism while addressing racial barriers and cultural roadblocks long established by the founders of the country. It makes for a prescient story, a year ahead of the rest of the world. Except, that is not the route Ms. deVos and her editors ultimately chose.
As I did not read the final version of Day Zero, I can’t say whether I liked it. I can extrapolate, however, based on my reaction to Day One, which is not favorable. The story itself loses a lot of timeliness and gravitas when Makeeba goes from being a strong, politically aware Black young woman to MacKenna, a rather selfish, impetuous white girl of privilege.
Plus, Jinx is not nearly as commanding and forceful in the sequel as she was in the first book. In Day One, she lets others dictate her actions rather than taking the initiative. This is not the Jinx we get to know in the first book, and there again, the story suffers as a result.
As a result, much of Day One becomes an exercise in suspension of disbelief as the story takes one outlandish turn after another. By the time someone we thought dead in the first novel makes an appearance, the whole thing has become so ridiculous as to be disappointing.
Again, I have no idea if I would feel similarly about Day Zero in its end form, but I do imagine my feelings would be less positive than they were simply because having key characters to help draw attention to systemic racism in a political thriller is a massive gamechanger to the story. I have never had a review copy change SO much from the published novel, and the changes made are, in my opinion, a poor choice.