Book Review: 'Hey, Zoey' uses questions about AI to look at female autonomy in a new light.

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Dolores is going through the motions of life when she finds a potentially marriage-ending surprise in her garage: a high-end, lifelike sex doll equipped with an artificial intelligence named Zoey.

There are so many places author Sarah Crossan could go from here—when is it cheating? What makes a person emotional? How can we define the value of a person? – and “Hey, Zoey” touches them all.

But the central focus throughout the story is on women's autonomy.

The novel jumps straight into Dolores' life with a fast-paced series of first-person vignettes, a mosaic of fragments that provide an overview of how we got here. Each sentence lasts from one or two to a few pages and jumps around several times and is almost in a stream of consciousness, though the story never feels lost or disjointed. Bite-sized pieces are easy to tear, but also easy to stop and digest when needed.

And you'll have to pause every now and then.

“Hey, Zoey,” starts off funny enough, at least in a gallows satirical way, before turning sad and then devastating. Even the premise is a little comical; A woman whose name is sometimes shortened to Dolly holds her husband's sex doll, named Zoe, meaning life. (“Dolores,” in case you're wondering, means “sadness”—buckle up.) Dolores actually gives restaurants one-star reviews based on their lighting and music choices—like if they're too More Norah plays. Jones — or reprimanding one of his students for drawing a sexist cartoon, after admitting he's a good artist. And it's very British, although Dolores and her family will jump to remind you that they're Irish.

Then, after lulling you into this safe haven of silly shenanigans and mundane memories, the story takes a turn for the bleak as introspection grows more disturbing. A subtle change like cooling the bath water is tempered so that, by the time you feel the water getting deeper, you've already done too much to avoid it for the hotter, funnier bits. Have invested.

Dolores begins talking with Zoey, which becomes a way to confront her past.

We see how his parents' relationship informed him about love and marriage. Caring for her younger sister and her baby cousin made her feel needed and connected. And as a teacher in her class with endless students riding bicycles, she feels stagnant. Now, with Zoey, can Dolores be replaced?

As the story progresses, you begin to examine your own theories as to why Dolores and David's marriage is falling apart. His problems are buried so deep that even Dolores has no clue.

Full of microaggressions, cultural touchpoints and self-reflection, “Hey, Zoey” uses AI emotions to take a fresh look at the issue of female empowerment.

With a dozen other novels under Crossan's belt, one might expect the award-winning author's latest to be a page-turner. But the real surprise and joy of “Hey, Zoey” is a great story and engaging dialogue.


AP Book Reviews:

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