Passing Strange: A (disappointed) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Passing Strange by Daniel WatersKaren DeSonne is good at fooling people. She’s passed as the normal girl, the responsible daughter, and even the happy girl. That was before she killed herself.

That was before she came back.

Now, Karen is making the most of her second chance at life–or whatever it is when the dead start walking around.

Things go horribly wrong when her dead friends’ planned social protest turns into a shootout after the zombies are accused of murder. Karen makes it away, but many other zombies in Oakvale are forced into hiding when it becomes illegal to be dead and walking around.

Karen knows that zombies had nothing to do with this crime. And she knows where to go to clear their names. In order to get the proof and help her people, Karen is going to have to wear the ultimate disguise. She’ll have to pretend to like Pete Martinsburg–a known zombie killer. But Karen’s pretended to like people before. The hard part, the part that could land her in a whole world of trouble, will be pretending she’s alive. Karen’s fooled everyone close to her at least once, but will she be able to pull off the charade of a lifetime (or un-lifetime) in Passing Strange (2010) by Daniel Waters.

Passing Strange is the third installment in Daniel Water’s quirky series about the walking dead in Oakvale (preceeded by the first book Generation Dead and Kiss of Life). This book is a departure from the first two in the series and would be a good place to start the series without missing a lot . . . except that this one is so much less than the first (and even the second) book.

Waters has abandoned his usual alternating perspectives and instead spends most of the book narrating in Karen’s voice. Unfortunately that voice is vacuous and sadly under-developed, particularly when compared to the writing from the other books (or even the third person parts in Passing Strange). Karen has had a complete personality shift from earlier in the series with seemingly no reason except to titillate readers. A girl who had previously seemed strong and grounded, comes across as flighty and insipid.

The entire book was erratic and a shocking departure from its two tightly written and well-put-together predecessors. Sometimes Karen is talking in present tense, sometimes the past tense. Sometimes she addresses a mysterious “you” to no effect. To make matters worse story threads that were raised in the earlier books are largely abandoned and sloppily set aside.

This book is a must read for anyone who has been following the series and wants to know what’s happening with their favorite zombies and their traditionally biotic friends (unless that includes Tommy or Phoebe who are barely in this one) but it is also a vast disappointment after Waters’ clever, sharp debut.

Possible Pairings: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

Exclusive Bonus Content: I received a copy of the UK edition to review from PriceMinister which is why I’m showing the usual zombie (US) cover (that’s Karen on the cover again by the way) and what I consider the inferior flower (UK) cover. I made a big deal of the wraparound covers from the first two books. Even that aspect fell short here with the cover only utilizing the front of the book this time. Everything about this book makes me wonder what the hell happened to the series I started reading and what the hell Waters is doing. We can only hope for a dramatic improvement in the next book.

Kiss of Life: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Life is always about choices. It’s about Phoebe Kendall befriending Karen DeSonne, the “differently biotic” girl next door and choosing to go to homecoming with Tommy Williams, the “differently biotic” boy next door. It’s about Tommy standing immobile when Pete Martinsburg pointed a gun at Phoebe’s head. It’s about Adam taking a bullet to save Phoebe. And, even though his “traditionally biotic” life might be over, it’s about Adam coming back–maybe for himself but probably for Phoebe, the girl he loves.

Adam isn’t alone.

All over the country, dead teenagers are waking up and rejoining the living with varying degrees of success. No one knows why some teenagers come back and some don’t. The only certainty is that everything changed the moment these zombies began trying to reconnect with the world of the living.

Adam’s death and return have rocked the city of Oakvale, Connecticut to its core. What really happened that night? Is it murder if the the victim can get up and walk away? Does a dead person deserve the same rights as a living person? Wouldn’t things be simpler if all of the zombies would just go away?

Vandalism and social protest abound as some of the zombies try to remind Oakvale that they aren’t going anywhere. But instead of raising awareness, the Sons of Romero might just be putting a bigger target on their differently biotic backs.

While Phoebe struggles to bring Adam back as much as she can, Tommy and Karen try to act as voices of reason among the zombie community. But the time for reason might be over in Kiss of Life (2009) by Daniel Waters.

Find it on Bookshop.

This sequel picks up shortly after the disastragic conclusion of Generation Dead leaving all of the characters to deal with the fallout, and the grief, in their own ways.

Don’t let the blurb or excerpt fool you. Both try to play up the Dramatic Love Triangle angle to lethal effect* but Kiss of Life is smarter than that. Waters continues to use the dichotomy between traditionally and differently biotic people to examine matters of tolerance and equality in a clever, original way.

In fact, even though this book is necessarily about Adam and his return, the book’s main event is really the polarizing nature of the newly dead arriving in Oakvale (and the rest of the country) and their own attempts to raise awareness and get some rights. Social protest is a big part of the story but so is, for lack of a better term, the meaning of life as all of the differently biotic characters try to make sense of what their returns really mean for them and, in a greater context, for the world at large.

I always said that Generation Dead was a really smart book. If possible, Kiss of Life is even more on point. It’s exciting, it gets under your skin, and it’s socially aware. Waters’ characters are charming and terrifying as he shows events not only from the heroes’ viewpoints but also from that of a villain. Nothing is black and white here. Add to that a dramatic finish and one of the most heart-wrenching love stories ever and you have something really exceptional.

Possible Pairings: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

*I was so excited about this sequel, but when I saw the blurb and excerpt I was so angry because this was one of those moments where there was absolutely no contest (Adam all the way, always and no matter what) but it really seemed like there was. I put off reading this book for almost a year because I DID NOT need to watch Phoebe spend a whole book mulling over which zombie boy she really loved. But the book is not about that AT ALL as the story really continues in the same vein as the first book. And I wish I knew that a year ago.

Exclusive Bonus Content: Like its predecessor, this book also has a fantastic wraparound cover that makes use of the full jacket. I get a little teary when I look at it, thinking “Oh, Adam.” every time. But aside from that it’s awesome. I don’t know who is finding these models but they are spot-on in capturing all of the characters and the whole “zombie” look. I love everything about this cover. (Click on the picture if you want to see it in its enormous full-sized image glory.)

Zombies Search for Acceptance and Tolerance Instead of Brains in Generation Dead

Generation Dead cover (note the use of the entire dust jacket)In its Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that separate schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. The schools for whites were often superior to their counterparts for black students and consequently the separate schools offered very different educational opportunities. This ruling was key to the civil rights movement and efforts to end segregation.

On September 3, 1957, nine black students were barred from entry into Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. By September 23, after another court decision ruled that Arkansas’ governor could not keep them out, the Little Rock Nine were able to begin their school year in the white high school. President Eisenhower also sent the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to help protect the black students from harassment that ranged from insults to acid being thrown into one student’s face.

Eight of the Little Rock Nine finished the school year at the Central High. In May of 1958 Ernest Green graduated from the school, the only minority in his graduating class of 602 students.

Fifty years later, Daniel Waters’ debut novel Generation Dead (2008) offers a new take on integration and the fight for civil rights. Find it on Bookshop.

In Oakvale, Connecticut parents and students alike are worried about the new students transferring to Oakvale High to benefit from the school’s program of integration. Some of the new students are minorities, some of them are not. The reason all of the new students prove worrisome to some locals is more fundamental: The new students are dead.

All over the country, dead teenagers are waking up and rejoining the living—more or less. Called “living impaired” or “differently biotic” by a politically correct society, many of the undead kids prefer the term “zombie.” No one knows why some teenagers come back and some don’t. The only certainty is that everything changed the moment these zombies began trying to reconnect with the world of the living.

Unfortunately, some (living) people would prefer to have the zombies stay dead. Permanently. Everyone child knows that names can never hurt them, but for undead teens that don’t heal sticks and stones suddenly seem much more dangerous, especially when the government has no laws to protect differently biotic citizens. After all, citizenship is supposed to expire when the citizen does, isn’t it?

In Generation Dead integration doesn’t start with a court decision detailing undead rights. Instead it starts with Tommy Williams trying out for the football team. Dead for about a year, no one expects Tommy to survive tryouts, let alone make the team. Except that he does.

Suddenly, the zombies don’t seem quite so different. Phoebe Kendall, a traditionally biotic (albeit pale) student, realizes that better than anyone as she begins to observe Tommy and the other living impaired students at her school including Tommy and Karen (the girl featured on the novel’s cover and possibly this reviewer’s favorite character). The more Phoebe sees of zombies like Tommy and Karen, the more they seem like any normal teenager, well mostly.

No one questions Phoebe’s motivations for befriending Tommy until it begins to look like the two of them are more than friends. Margi, Phoebe’s best friend and fellow Goth, can’t understand what Phoebe could see in a dead boy. Every time her neighbor Adam sees Phoebe with Tommy, he can’t help but wonder why she doesn’t feel the same way about him when he’s actually alive.

Eventually Margi and Adam come around, forming their own tentative bonds with the zombies in their midst. Meanwhile, other students at Oakvale remain hostile. Determined to make sure that the dead students invading their school stay dead for good this time, they set a vicious plan into motion that will irrevocably change everything for Phoebe and her friends—dead and alive.

Written in the third person, Waters alternates viewpoints throughout the novel. Each of the main characters mentioned here, specifically Phoebe and Adam, have sections of the novel related from their perspective. The novel even features narration from one of the students strongly opposed to the zombie presence in Oakvale. This technique, aside from demonstrating Waters’ masterful writing skills, offers a fully informed perspective on the events of the novel with its variety of viewpoints.

Upon first glance, this book looks like a quirky but not necessarily serious book. A cover with a dead cheerleader wearing biker books can have that effect on readers. And yet, even though the story is about zombies, it isn’t just another fun book. Filled with smart writing and an utterly original story, Generation Dead also adds to the ongoing conversation about tolerance and equality suggesting that people often have more in common than not. Even with zombies.

(You can get even more of that zombie perspective at Tommy’s blog My So-Called Undeath.

Possible Pairings: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld