18.07.10

You Are So Undead to Me by Stacey Jay

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:17 pm

Q: HOW MANY ZOMBIES DOES IT TAKE TO RUIN A SOCIAL LIFE?
A: NOT MANY.

Megan Berry is a Zombie Settler by birth, which means she’s part-time shrink to a whole bunch of semi-dead people with killer issues. All Megan really wants is to go to homecoming, but when you’re trailed by a bunch of slobbering corpses whenever you leave the house, it’s kinda hard to score a date. Let’s just say Megan’s love life could use some major resuscitation.

Megan’s convinced her life can’t get any worse – until someone in school starts using black magic to turn average, angsty Undead into scary, hardcore flesh-eating Zombies. Now it’s up to Megan to stop the Zombie apocalypse. Her life – and more importantly, the homecoming dance – depends on it.

In a lot of ways, You Are So Undead to Me is Buffy with zombies instead of vampires.  Whether or not that’s a good thing will, of course, depend on your perspective.  And while Buffy has spawned a slew of outright imitators and just generally a lot of interested in the kick-arse-girl-fights-monsters genre (yay!), this is one of the better kinda-homages I’ve come across for a while.

Megan Berry is a high school student, aspiring cheerleader, and Zombie Settler – not that she remembers that last part, until an undead turns up on her doorstep right before a hot date and needs to be settled.  Megan has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of being attacked by Reanimated Corpses as a child, which are the evil beings more often associated with zombism.  She doesn’t remember her powers or anything about the Settler world, until her powers begin to re-emerge and it becomes apparent that someone is out to get her.  That’s when gore starts to hit the fan and Megan is assigned a bodyguard/teacher in the form of Ethan, a dishy older guy who used to be her best friend before the Reanimated Corpse attack.

One of the things I really enjoyed about You Are So Undead to Me is the book’s zombie lore – while Reanimated Corpses are the relentless, brain-hungering monsters we’ve come to know and love from movies, actual zombies, the kind Megan settles, are more like traditional ghosts – folks with something to get off their chests before they can finally rest.  The fact that zombies are drawn to Settlers around their own age adds a tint of pathos to what is otherwise a frequently frothy book, particularly when Megan remembers her powers manifesting as a young child, and visitations from pre-school zombies.

Jay’s writing makes the story bounce along, with just the right amount of genuine horror and reality mixed into an otherwise humourous, bubbly story.  Megan isn’t given to a great deal of introspection, but she’s smart in her own way and likeable regardless; she reminded me a little of both Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicholson and Legally Blonde‘s Elle Woods.  Her “realness” is frequently what gives the story both its pull and its humour – like her anxiety about getting rid of an inconvenient undead not because he’s a dead guy in her loungeroom, but because she’s about to go on a high school popularity-defining date with a hot guy from the football team.

You Are So Undead to Me is the first book in a series; Undead Much? has recently been released, and My So-Called Death will be released in Australia later this year.  I’ll be looking forward to both.  I suspect that “high school zombie novel” is a trickier genre to get right than it appears to be, and Stacey Jay does it very well.

28.04.10

Book Review: Loving Richard Feynman by Penny Tangey

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:26 pm

Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.  Catherine is a science-loving fifteen-year-old.  Richard helped build the atom bomb.  Catherine’s just trying to survive school.

When your life is falling apart around you, is talking to a dead physicist normal?

Catherine thinks so, but it isn’t until her life begins unravelling that she learns who she can really trust.

In Loving Richard Feynman, her debut novel,  Penny Tangey has revealed that she has a gift for touching on the old with enough of the new that it feels completely fresh.  The narrative takes place as a series of letters that Catherine writes to Richard Feynman, self-consciously at first, and eventually completely openly.  Given that letters and diary entries such a well-worn form of telling a story, particularly in YA, this could have gone badly or just blandly, but having one of the greatest physicists the world has ever known as the focus of Catherine’s unrequitable letters works really well; Catherine learns more about Richard Feynman as she learns about herself, and uses his life and times (as told through biographies and Feynman’s autobiography) as a one-way sounding board for her own angst.

Catherine is such an awesome main character.  It’s still unusual in YA to have a female character that is so unabashedly nerdy, witty, smart and brave.  Catherine’s cousin refers to her in one scene as a “box of nerdish delight”, and this is absolutely spot on.  Catherine is smart, headstrong and hilarious, with enough emotional fragility that she’s still easy to relate to; her insistance that she doesn’t care what others think (inspired by Feynman) is more of a mantra than a verifiable fact.  It’s also nice to come across a teenage female protagonist who isn’t  afraid to indentify – loudly – as a feminist.

Catherine’s school life feels very realistic; possibly particularly so to me as, like her, I went to high school in a small Victorian country town, and the party scene in the paddock is all too familiar.  But the travails and trails are well-referenced here without seeming stale or cliche, which is an absolute boon.

As Catherine’s own life begins to change, she leans more heavily on her imagined relationship with Feynman, only to discover, as she learns more about his life, that he is just as human and fallible as the people around her.  Although the letters begin as a way for her to retreat from her life for a moment to make sense of it, she becomes more self-aware about the relationship she imagines and the ideals she is projecting onto Feynman.  It’s a clever in-text critique of the novel’s own structure, and it drives the narrative smoothly to its crisis point.

Loving Richard Feynman should be read by every current and former high school nerd, and by anyone who loves fresh, funny YA fiction with strong female characters.  Penny Tangey is a writer to watch.