Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Zombie-fest

I really enjoy zombie books. My mantra is "Zombies are the new vampires." But I'm noticing something a little odd. A lot of my kids (that is, the kids who regularly come to my library and talk to me about books), who had little or no trouble with vampire variations (sparkling in the sunlight? Fine! caused by parasites? No problem!), are zombie fundamentalists! They are adamantly opposed to zombies being anything but mindless, rotting undead in search of brains to eat. Fortunately, others are more open-minded, and these books are for them.

Kiss of Life by Daniel Waters
Main Character: Traditionally biotic Phoebe, and her different biotic (zombie) friends
Location: Connecticut
Time period: Contemporary
Genre: YA Fiction, Zombies
Series: Generation Dead #2

I really enjoyed Generation Dead, the first book in the series, which established a world in which teens who had died suddenly have the ability to come back to life. That book ended with the shocking murder of Adam, who jumped in front of a bullet meant for Paige, and his equally shocking ressurrection. This book starts up shortly afterwards. Adam is slowly adjusting to his new state of existence; his stepfather is suddenly very caring while his little brother is not coping well.

While the first book was very focused on Oakvale, the high school, and a small group of friends, Kiss of Life spreads out both thematically and geographically. Paige's attention is on school and on Adam. Her tenuous relationship with Tommy is broken--when choosing between two boys, how can you not choose the one who died for you?--and she spends most of her time and energy on healing Adam. Tommy decides to leave, travelling the country to fight for zombie rights, keeping in touch through his website. Collette and Melissa take Paige to New York to check out the big zombie nightclub, and Collette falls in love with one of the band members. Some of the boys from the Haunted House decide to fight for zombie rights in a more "in-your-face" way, which shows some humor and creativity, and Karen begins hanging out with them more. But the anti-zombie movement is growing and Pete, the boy who killed Adam, is rapidly rising in their ranks. Oh, and the Hunter Foundation? I don't trust them anymore.

Things are leading to a big confrontation, so I assume there will be a third book, and I am waiting with varying degrees of patience for Mr. Waters to write it.

Zombie Queen of Newbury High by Amanda Ashby
Main Character: Mia, a bookworm in love with a football player (who has finally noticed her!)
Location: not specified
Time period: Contemporary prom season
Genre: YA Fiction, Zombies

This is a light a frothy approach to zombies. Mia is your typical studious wallflower who has managed to catch the eye of Rob ("super hot football god") and he has actually asked her to prom (!) which goes against the plans of cheerleader queen Samantha. Knowing that she will never beat Samantha at the popularity game, Mia decides to purchase a love potion. But something goes wrong and instead of making Rob fall madly in love with her, she unleashes a zombie virus which is rapidly infecting the whole school! She thought it was strange that people started bringing her food--turns out that they're just trying to fatten her up for the upcoming feast! Eeeek!

With enough pop culture references to rival a Meg Cabot novel, Zombie Queen is a fast and fun read.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Main Character: Elizabeth Bennett
Location: An alternative England cursed by a zombie plague
Time period: 1800s
Genre: Fiction, Literary and zombie mash-up

Okay, this one is not specifically a YA novel, and I'm not sure that it could be enjoyed by someone who hasn't already read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The concept is almost irresistable--it is the actual, full text of the original novel but with added scenes of zombie mayhem. A sequel (of sorts) called Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is coming soon.

I have to admit that I did not enjoy this quite as much as I wanted to. (High expectations are rarely a good thing.) There were parts that were very successful. I loved the small, subtle details, such as when Elizabeth is at Netherfield caring for an ill Jane. In the evening, while others converse or play cards, Lizzie sits by the fire sharpening her sword. Mr. Bennett took his daughters to China to learn martial arts, which just gives Lady Catherine de Bourgh, convinced of the superiority of the Japanese arts, one more reason to look down on Lizzie. The ball where Mr. Darcy first encounters (and insults) Lizzie is interrupted when zombies crash though the windows and begin eating the guests. (At least my traditionalist kids can't possibly object to the way zombies are depicted here.)

But there were a few things that disappointed me in this book, mainly in the character of Lizzie. We know that she is strong-willed and intelligent, but she is not cruel; she is finally convinced that Wickham is not worthy of her consideration when she learns of his treatment of a stableboy. So it really disturbed me when, having been manuvered into a martial arts demonstration against Lady de Bourgh's ninjas, she kills them without turning a hair.

Still, a fun way of looking at a classic novel, and one that sent me to re-read the original afterwards.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Main character: 17-year-old Katniss
Location: District 12, the Capitol, and the games arena
Time period: some unknown future
Genre: YA Fiction, Dystopian future
Series: The Hunger Games #2

I've seen some reviews of Catching Fire that were disappointed, seeing this book as a letdown after The Hunger Games, as just putting pieces into place for the exciting conclusion that will come in the next book. I disagree. I loved this book just as much as I loved the first one, and I wait anxiously for the next.

Katniss has survived the Hunger Games, and now should be living a life of relative ease in the victor's village near Haymitch and Peeta. For once in their lives, she, her mother and Prim have enough food to eat and she will not need to work down in the mines. Of course, she will need to mentor future tributes in the upcoming games but she herself will be free from the reapings for the rest of her life. Or at least that's the way it's supposed to be.

But Katniss's act of defiance has sparked rebellion in the districts, and President Snow himself comes District 12 to threaten Katniss in person--keep up the pretence of the romance with Peeta or everyone you love will be destroyed.

Katniss is now 17 years old, but she still operates on instinct, on the need to not only survive but to make sure that those she cares about also survive. She is not one for long-term strategies, or to recognize the effects that he actions have on anyone beyond her immediate circle. She is no Joan of Arc, determined to lead an army, but something about her has captured the imagination of the world and the more the Capitol tries to control her (even with her reluctant co-operation) the less control they have. ("The more you tighten your grip, Lord Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers." Sorry. Slight geek-out there.)

In many ways, Peeta is the opposite of Katniss. As the son of the baker, he never had to worry as much about keeping his family from starving as Katniss did so he's not as stuck in survival mode. Outwardly calmer and more introspective than Katniss, he still shows himself capable of deep, passionate feelings. He's more clued in to the bigger picture and somehow knows just the right thing to say, whether to comfort Katniss, garner audience support, or subtly twist the knife in the Capitol's side.

The prep team from the first book makes a repeat appearance, though their part is not as big as it was in the first book. Still, Cinna manages to style costumes for Katniss that make it clear where his allegiances lie whatever the cost.

Don't want to say more than that, except to repeat that this was a wonderful book that stands up well to the first book, sets up the showdown of the next book, and is a very enjoyable read on its own.