Review: The Cartographers by Amy Zhang

The Cartographers by Amy Zhang

The Cartographers
Amy Zhang
Published January 31, 2023

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About The Cartographers

Struggling to balance the expectations of her immigrant mother with her deep ambivalence about her own place in the world, seventeen-year-old Ocean Wu takes her savings and goes off the grid. A haunting and romantic novel about family, friendship, philosophy, and love.

Ocean Wu has always felt enormous pressure to succeed. After struggling with depression during her senior year in high school, Ocean moves to New York City, where she has been accepted at a prestigious university. But Ocean feels so emotionally raw and unmoored (and uncertain about what is real and what is not), that she decides to defer and live off her savings until she can get herself together. She also decides not to tell her mother (whom she loves very much but doesn’t want to disappoint) that she is deferring—at least until she absolutely must.

In New York, Ocean moves into an apartment with Georgie and Tashya, two strangers who soon become friends, and gets a job tutoring. She also meets a boy—Constantine Brave (a name that makes her laugh)—late one night on the subway. Constant is a fellow student and a graffiti artist, and Constant and Ocean soon start corresponding via Google Docs—they discuss physics, philosophy, art, literature, and love. But everything falls apart when Ocean goes home for Thanksgiving, Constant reveals his true character, Georgie and Tashya break up, and the police get involved.

Ocean, Constant, Georgie, and Tashya are all cartographers—mapping out their futures, their dreams, and their paths toward adulthood in this stunning and heartbreaking novel about finding the strength to control your own destiny.

The Cartographers on Goodreads

My Review

This is another book where I feel like the cover copy doesn’t truly reflect the story. I get it, though– this is a really hard one to put into a neat and catchy few paragraphs. Ocean spends a lot of time obsessing over her relationship with Constantine and trying to understand her depression. But that makes the book sound like a downer, which isn’t good.

While THE CARTOGRAPHERS doesn’t shy away from emotional anguish, I wouldn’t describe it as a downer. I liked the way the writing pressed into messy feelings and relationships without closure or clear communication and how addicting they can sometimes be. I found myself nodding along with some of Ocean’s observations and thinking about a particular relationship in my own past that reminded me of the dynamic between her and Constantine.

The philosophy conversations were really cool, too. The whole book felt really smart to me and also a little bit whimsical. Sometimes funny, sometimes deep. Lots of chasing wild ideas. I loved that.

Some of those things make this a tough book to categorize. It’s not really a romance. Maybe it’s more of a coming-of-age story? A journey through depression? It’s a lot of thing, so many of them heartfelt, brave, and smart.

Something about this book reminded me of THE PARADOX OF VERTICAL FLIGHT or AWAY WE GO by Emil Ostrovski. (Both of which I LOVED!) I think readers looking for a book that doesn’t shy away from messy relationships and emotions, that explores the connections between people, will like this one.

The Cartographers on Bookshop

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Ocean Wu is Chinese American. Two minor characters (girls) are in a romantic relationship.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. References to a boy and girl having sex.

Spiritual Content
Ocean and Constantine talk philosophy in person and a Google Doc they share.

Violent Content
Ocean has suicidal ideations.

Drug Content
Ocean drinks alcohol with her roommates and at a dinner with her roommate’s family.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of THE CARTOGRAPHERS in exchange for my honest review.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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