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by April Henry
Your Adult, 224 pages.
Putnam Juvenile (2009)
ISBN: 978-0399246456

Ellie is caught between her love for her aging activist parents and her hot new boyfriend Coyote, a member of the radical MEDs or Mother Earth Defenders. To save her parents from drug charges brought on by the FBI, she has to infiltrate the MEDs and alert the authorities if they ever target a human victim. In the ultimate high-stakes adventure, she has to figure out her ideals, define her friends and expose her enemies before they wipe her from the face of the planet they’re so feverishly protecting.

April Henry is very good at suspense. Go figure: many of her previous books have been mysteries and thrillers. Now she tries on a romance with a very interesting subject matter. The teens in this book belong to a group of Hummer dealership-torching, tree-sitting, corporation-hating idealists whose convictions and passions blur the line between justice and domestic terrorism, at least in the eyes of the FBI.

When Ellie is given her assignment — to rat on a dangerous and powerful organization or see her parents locked up for growing weed — the stakes jump sky high and don’t come back down until the explosive climax.

What really struck me about this book is how Ellie’s character changes and shifts over time. As she gets more and more caught up in Coyote and her MEDs activities, her outlook on the world evolves in a completely honest way. It is clear throughout that she is trying to establish her own ideology and, just like the other members of the group, takes it either too far or not far enough at times.

TORCHED was a very enjoyable, fast-paced read that delved deep into the kind of notorious organization that makes international headlines for more than just its Arbor Day tree planting picnics. Henry tackles a timely, newsy topic with such believable insider knowledge, I could swear she is an FBI plant herself.

Released in March, TORCHED is a look at all sides of activism, from the most hopeful and altruistic facets, to the darkest and most desperate. Pick up a copy today! Links: Amazon, Shop Indie Bookstores

For Readers: Everyone has looked at the world and wanted to change it: to do more, see more done or take drastic action. No matter the cause. The people in TORCHED act on these impulses and go overboard, putting themselves and others in extreme danger. But Henry doesn’t make any judgments, she lets the characters grapple with their personal philosophies for better or worse. For any teens passionate about social issues or politically aware, this is a really interesting and in-depth take on one girl’s experience with environmental extremism. This book isn’t just for hippies or Greenpeace supporters, however. It’s a book for anyone who has known moments of frustration and powerlessness against huge obstacles, and for anyone who has had to make the difficult decision to do what is right, whatever that murky word might mean to them.

For Writers: Short of climbing a rope and living in a tree for a few nights, I have no idea how Henry got such intimate knowledge about what life up there would’ve been like for Ellie and Coyote. There are many sharply observed and realistic moments in this book and I’m impressed by this author’s research. She also — and this is key — writes about social issues without getting preachy or mounting a soapbox. Many books with a political or social justice theme tend to represent things as black or white. There are characters like this here, but Coyote, Ellie and her parents are testament to the fact that life is always shades of gray. Kudos to Henry for writing a well-researched, thoughtful book that opens up a person’s opinion and understanding of activism. So many other others would tackle this charged subject and accomplish the opposite effect.

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by Suzanne LaFleur
Middle Grade, 272 pages.
Wendy Lamb Books (2009)
ISBN: 978-0385737746

At the beginning of LOVE, AUBREY, we don’t know what kind of tragedy has rocked Aubrey’s world, we just know she’s utterly alone. As we watch her buy herself a beta fish and putter around her empty house, it emerges that her father and sister died in a car accident and her mother fled from the grief of losing them and the guilt of being behind the wheel. Grandma comes to pick up the pieces and moves Aubrey to Vermont. The two women, young and old, united by tragedy, try to put the pieces of their lives back together while searching for Aubrey’s mother.

Once they find her, it becomes clear that her pain is too raw and she simply isn’t ready to be a mother yet. Aubrey must begin the slow and complicated process of making friends, grappling with her memories and reimagining what home and family mean in this new life of hers.

If only most adults had the strength and grace of this eleven year-old character. Aubrey is so hurt — on many more levels than she’ll ever admit, even to the reader, who knows most of her secret heart — but her wisdom shines brilliantly from these pages. Through writing letters, first to her beta fish, then to her dead sister’s imaginary friend, then to her dad and finally to her mother, she expresses just how strong she’s become, how strong, in fact, she’s always been. These letters cap off chapters in the perfect balance of narrative and the character’s own self-expression.

LaFleur’s writing is a thing of beauty and simplicity. Through Aubrey’s crystal-clear voice, she expresses longing, love, pain and hope with the lightest touch. The reader is always deeply involved in Aubrey’s emotions but never told about them outright. We just know Aubrey so well from the first page that everything she does makes total, resonant, brutally honest emotional sense. When her mother doesn’t come home for Christmas, we know her rage and grief, even if we’ve never experienced her circumstances.

This is the whole point of fiction, the very essence of creating a character who lives and breathes. For such a short, quiet book, LaFleur manages not only startling character development but a fleshed-out plot. Memories, emotions, flickers of new life and tortured pangs of the old combine seamlessly as Aubrey does chores to keep her mind off her grief, goes to a new school, visits with a guidance counselor, rediscovers her relationship with her mom and finally chooses her real home, at least for now.

The tagline of the book is: “She will make you cry. She will make you smile. Aubrey will stay with you forever.” I can’t put it any better than that. In this age of high-concept paranormal adventures, barbed-wire edgy and unrealistic, cookie-cutter romance, sometimes I wonder where all the small, literary books of amazing emotional depth and power are. LOVE, AUBREY is the book I’ve been waiting for (Gayle Forman’s IF I STAY (review) and Carol Lynch Williams’ THE CHOSEN ONE (review) also come to mind). It fills me with utter joy that such a talented writer and such a passionate editor found each other and created this unassuming, completely take-your-breath-away masterpiece.

LOVE, AUBREY comes out on June 9th, 2009. If you’ve forgotten the glorious ache of feeling your entire register of human emotions, read it as soon as you can. You’ll be so glad you did. I didn’t even know how much I needed Aubrey in my life. Links: Amazon, Shop Indie Bookstores.

For Readers: This book will appeal to middle grade readers as well as, um, everyone on the planet. Buy this for the kids in your life and tell them to pass it on to siblings, parents, grandparents. I’m serious. Everybody needs to read this book and its appeal is so broad, so human, that it will charm and touch each person who comes in contact with it. Of all my recent reads, this one is most likely to stand the test of time. It is a modern classic in my head already and it hasn’t even come out! Yes, I know I’m gushing, but I’m totally allowed.

For Writers: It isn’t often that writers achieve the ultimate goal of transparency, as LaFleur does here. There are some writers, of course, who thrive on their trademark voice, who use it everywhere as an indelible stamp. LaFleur has a style, sure, but as a writer, she completely disappears into Aubrey’s voice, she spins her words without once interrupting the “fictive dream” to call attention to a flourish of writing, a clever joke, an important moment. Most writers, whether consciously or not, just can’t quite get themselves out of their own writing. Not LaFleur. What you see here is all Aubrey, all the time. Please read it. If it doesn’t change your writing, and I’m not sure it will because its lessons are very subtle and complex, it will change the way you see character and it will redefine your boundaries of how deeply into a fictional soul you can go.

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by Jake Wizner
Young Adult, 304 pages.
Random House Books for Young Readers (2009)
ISBN: 978-0375852152

Disclosure: I love Jake Wizner. A lot. So when it came time to read CASTRATION CELEBRATION, I was a whole mess of fuzzy/nervous/excited feelings. I will try to leave my obnoxious crush on SPANKING SHAKESPEARE out of this review.

At a Yale summer program for artistic teens, Olivia and Max run into each other and can’t seem to separate again. While Olivia is there to nurse a broken heart and write a ball-busting, dick-shrinking play called, duh, “Castration Celebration,” Max makes it his goal to pursue her and win the girl that doesn’t want to be won. Their story is paralleled by Olivia’s characters, Jane and Dick, who fall in love, fall out of it, sing songs about Edward Cullen drinking Bella’s period blood and then fall back in love again. Much Ado About Nothing is another overarching parallel.

Now. There has been some hullabaloo about this book already (I’m lookin’ at you, New York Post) because of its sexual content. And when I say sexual content, I don’t mean ugly-bumpin’ porn scenes. I mean jokes about sex, penises, periods, vaginas, sheep-molestation, all of it. Some people are up in arms but this is exactly why it doesn’t really bother me… Wizner writes jokes. For a person with my sense of humor, the bawdiest sex joke won’t really make me blush. It’s harmless.

What struck me about CASTRATION CELEBRATION, as a book, though, is that it all seems like one big joke. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes… not. The whole hook/title/play-within-a-book idea feels like Jake Wizner riffing with himself, coming up with a funny concept and thinking “Wouldn’t that be a freaking hilarious book?” Sometimes, these crack-yourself-up moments lead to really awesome, funny stuff. Other times, developing a one-line inside joke into a book and then actually releasing it into the world can’t compare with the freshness and fun of the original idea. While a lot of CASTRATION CELEBRATION is funny, some of it strains to be so. Some of the musical scenes and songs are great, others feel like they’re trying too hard, like Wizner had a fabulous idea but got in a little over his head once he realized he’d have to develop it all the way.

As I think I’ve said before, I love Jake Wizner’s writing. I love it. His sharp characterizations and effortlessly hilarious dialogue in SPANKING SHAKESPEARE won me over. In CASTRATION CELEBRATION, though, I didn’t feel like the characters were as sharp as they could be. Olivia, Max and Zeke, Max’s roommate, are the standouts, while the others, especially Olivia’s gaggle of female roommates, blend into one another. And some of the dialogue — while it was fun and banter-y and random and totally captured the cadence of a group of hormone-drunk teens shooting the shit and trying for laughs — didn’t elevate all that goodness to the realm of interesting and compelling fiction.

That being said, the book really picks up steam after the first 75 or so pages. I think Wizner struggles a little to nail the tone of this book (which, believe me, I admire so much… a farcical, faux musical, bawdy romp comedy is a tough tone to nail) but finds the true voice of it eventually. As a book, CASTRATION CELEBRATION raised some really interesting questions for me. Can a person write the literary equivalent of Superbad or an SNL sketch and expect audiences to react to it the same way in book form? Even though the script-format scenes of the book are written for the stage, they read like they’d be better in a Judd Apatow film.

This is something I’ve noticed a lot in film/TV/advertising lately. It seems like the lowest common denominator has hit rock bottom since Judd Apatow, The Office, Will Ferrell and others soared to new heights of popularity. Now even Madison Avenue admen with bazillion dollar budgets are casting their version of The Office’s Jim and making him say random stuff/do some physical comedy because they think that’s what the public likes (see: those ridiculous Bill Gates/Jerry Seinfeld ads). It’s a really interesting phenomenon to watch, because most producers/advertisers/writers are totally clueless about comedy. Jake Wizner, on the other hand, writes excellent comedy. And there are some really funny parts to CASTRATION CELEBRATION. But did Wizner fit this story with the right medium? My gut says no. It reads more like a sketch or a movie. Though, who knows, that might just be the new synergistic format to reach older teen (and especially boy) readers.

CASTRATION CELEBRATION comes out May 26th, 2009. Order it today or pick it up for your grandma, pastor or therapist at your favorite local indie! (I know I’ve used this joke before, but I’m not nearly as funny as Jake Wizner, so gimmie a break!) Links: Amazon, Shop Indie Bookstores.

For Readers: SEX!!!!! Did I just make you blush? Then you probably shouldn’t read this book. If you can handle a lion’s share of tasteless sex jokes, you’ll be fine. Older readers who are fans of comedy, sex, laughing, sex, smiling, sex, boys, sex, girls, sex, sex, sex and sex will enjoy this book. As with SPANKING SHAKESPEARE, cool kids who hang out with the drama nerds, artists, music geeks and otherwise party on the enlightened fringes of their high school societies will probably find more here than will those who loved PAISLEY HANOVER.

For Writers: I’m still convinced that writers who want to write older teen comedy need to add Jake Wizner books to their curriculum. Another cool thing he does here, as he did in his first book, is intertwine narrative chapters with a character’s “own” writing, in this case, Olivia’s play. This is a popular technique to showcase what a character is thinking, as witnessed by the journaling phenomenon. If you’re looking to add another layer of voice to your character, maybe think about featuring something “they’ve” written in between chapters of narration.

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by Lauren Myracle
Young Adult, 192 pages
Dutton (2009)
ISBN: 978-0525477433

Fifteen year-old Carly is a budding nonconformist, haircut maven and, most of all, older sister extraordinaire. But when she comes back from wilderness camp all tanned and decked out in leather hippie sandals, she realizes her younger sister Anna has, er, developed in all the right places. Now Anna, just an incoming frosh, seems to have it all figured out in the vapid, striated social world of the exclusive Holy Redeemer prep school they go to.

As Mr. Lauderdale worries about his new Jaguar and their equally materialistic mother raves about her mani-pedis, Carly sees Anna straining to join the kind of girls who spend their lunch hours discussing teeth-bleaching and hair extensions. The more Carly rebels and tries to define her own ideals, the more difficult her sisterly relationship becomes. When their parents go out of town and a party mixed with some bad decisions tests their bond once and for all, Carly won’t have any PEACE, she’ll rediscover her LOVE for Anna & maybe even get a couple BABY DUCKS out of the bargain.

Lauren Myracle is extremely talented at portraying the younger teen/older tween mentality in all of its conflicted, contradictory, self-conscious glory. Carly is a masterpiece in this regard. She’s trying to hone her own personality while the rest of her world pushes back on her and challenges her. She even goes too far on several occasions and hurts Anna and her friends. In all things, Carly keeps returning to what it means to be a sister and how to be true to herself in an artificial world. While some things may seem straight out of the Kidlit Canon — like the obligatory parents-out-of-town-rager-that-gets-out-of-control, the evergreen awful-back-to-school-haircut and the old favorite, new-boy-in-school-is-blazingly-hot plotlines — Myracle’s talent is making each internal conflict that arises a deeply-felt and extremely revealing adventure that teaches both her characters, and us, a little something about living authentically in a world that doesn’t feel like home sometimes.

PEACE, LOVE & BABY DUCKS comes out today, so order a copy or pick it up at your nearest indie bookstore. And don’t forget… there’s a huge contest going on through the end of May on Lauren’s website: www.laurenmyracle.com. Here are links to buy the book: Amazon, Shop Indie Bookstores.

For Readers: Fans of Lauren Myracle will not be disappointed. Like a superstar author should, she just keeps growing in her emphatic ability to draw a fleshed-out, complicated character. Some of the other characters in Carly’s world might be stereotypical, but Carly, her friend Roger and Anna are anything but ordinary. That’s the rub… and the eventual glory of the story. Carly narrates a wonderful journey full of the complex considerations I remember from my own prep school days (how old fart does that make me sound?!): how to be different without alienating everyone around you. Carly does both — from going too far to selling out her own beliefs — and it’s an awesome pleasure to read.

For Writers: I’ve mentioned a lot about the characterizations in PEACE, LOVE & BABY DUCKS already, so read for that. There is also an overwhelming study of what it means to be a sibling in this book. As an only child, I know I’ve tried to write siblings before without a lot of success. Myracle proves that sibling relations shouldn’t just be limited to a few scenes here and there. Being an older sister is in the very core of Carly’s character, without ever once being heavyhanded. This is a great sibling book, better than any I’ve read in a long time (save the family dynamic in IF I STAY). You’ll also enjoy how honestly Myracle tackles social dynamics like race and class.

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by Seth Grahame-Smith
Adult/Young Adult, 320 pages.
Quirk Books (2009)
ISBN: 978-1594743344

The Regency world is turned upside down when an unholy menace descends upon Netherfield and… Actually, no. I refuse to do a detailed synopsis for PRIDE PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES. Because you either get it or you don’t. This is PRIDE AND PREJUDICE mixed with brain-lusting, flesh-rending, slobber-icious zombies. And ninjas, too. In a book review capacity, I can’t exactly take it seriously, other than to say that Elizabeth’s feisty sparring with Mr. Darcy takes on a whole new edge when you introduce a plague of friggin’ zombies to the mix. In my MFA program, I think we’d call that an “objective correlative.” In my real life, I’d call that “mind-blowing awesome.”

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES has its critics of course. Mostly people who left their sense of humor in the stacks while writing their third PhD dissertation on the symbolism of candlesticks in the middle-to-late-Austen canon. What I don’t understand is how you can possibly pick up a copy of this book, see the red eyes, torn flesh and blood on the cover and expect something in the spirit of Jane Austen. What part of “Now With Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!” don’t you understand?

Some people have lashed out at Seth Grahame-Smith, also, for not matching Jane Austen’s style more closely in the parts where he edits the text. Call me crazy, but scholars have no idea how Austen would write zombies. Thus, it is safe to assume that she might handle them something like this. Either way, since Jane Austen can’t write zombies for us unless she becomes one herself, I think it’s safe to give Grahame-Smith the benefit of the doubt here.

So, recap: The Bennet family + dagger skills + zombies + ninjas = the best ever gift for your English teacher. And also, if you really want to wow the AP English committee, base your entire essay on this adapted version of the classic.

Here are links if you want to buy it for your grandmother, pastor, therapist, everyone else you know: Amazon, Shop Indie Bookstores.

For Readers: This book turned me into a less-than-careful reader. While the Jane Austen parts were good, they sounded more like Charlie Brown’s teacher compared to the awesome zombie violence. Complete with line drawings that help you imagine the gore, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is the ultimate treat for the literate horror movie fan. While the jury’s still out on whether this Jane Austen chick will make it as a writer, there’s no doubt Seth Grahame-Smith is the King of English Literature!

For Writers: I think we can all admit in our secret heart of hearts that we let out a low keen of extreme mourning when we heard about this book. All because some screenwriter in LA (of course) thought of it first. You can’t get more public domain than Jane Austen, so his start up capital was exactly zero dollars. Now the grapevine tells me that this author has gotten a mid-six-figure advance for his second tale about Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. I still can’t forgive myself for not smoking what Seth Grahame-Smith was smoking when he thought of this because it’s bloody brilliant. Literally.

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by Max Brooks
Adult/Young Adult, 352 pages.
Three Rivers Press (2007)
ISBN: 978-0307346612

Ever since I read this book a month or so ago, I’ve had at least one zombie related nightmare per week.

And it was totally worth it.

At the store I work in, we shelve this book in the adult section for obvious reasons (crazy graphic zombie related violence for a start) but really this book is no worse than the average R rated horror flick that most thirteen year olds watch when their parents aren’t home anyway. And it’s probably a lot smarter, with a lot of really interesting questions about our current dependence on technology.

Written in the tradition of Studs Terkel’s THE GOOD WAR, Max Brooks uses the conceit of oral history to its most entertaining potential. Though completely fictional, the accounts are so vivid, and the spread of zombies so logical that despite its crazy premise it starts to sound downright inevitable.

So stock up your house with non-perishable goods, invest in a crowbar, shave your head and get ready for the zombie apocalypse. It’s coming.

This guest review was written and originally posted by Maggie, over at her blog, Gob Wrote A Book. I haven’t gotten around to WORLD WAR Z just yet but I completely trust her judgment in all matters related to zombies. Here are links if you want to buy: Amazon, Shop Indie Bookstores.

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by Daniel Waters
Young Adult, 416 pages.
Hyperion (2009)
ISBN: 978-1423109235

Phoebe and the gang are back and tensions at Oakvale High School run higher than ever. Since there are no human rights for zombies, Peter gets away with Adam’s murder. And Adam, completely different from the handsome, agile football player he used to be, must navigate his new afterlife. As more and more people try to eliminate the zombie menace, the differently biotic and Phoebe, their biggest supporter, must decide how to live and whether or not to go, ahem, underground.

In this sequel to GENERATION DEAD (see my review), Phoebe Kendall makes a very difficult choice between Tommy Williams, the articulate, intelligent zombie, and Adam, who loved her all through his life and who she must take care of in his living death. He isn’t nearly as mobile or developed, but Phoebe breaks this off with Tommy because Adam is where her heart belongs. Tommy, meanwhile, hits the road and leaves Phoebe and beautiful zombie Kelly in charge of his MySoCalledUndeath.com blog.

Meanwhile, a more radical group of zombies, led by the disgruntled Tak, start wreaking havoc to get back at society. The anti-zombie movement, which Peter has gotten mixed up in, of course, uses these pranks to frame the zombies in even bigger crimes, including a murder. As police and the FBI crack down on zombies and the formerly zombie-friendly Oakvale High bans them from lunch and then from classes, the community is thrown into turmoil. Even the supposedly friendly Hunter Foundation may not be what it seems. After a particularly vicious attack on the zombies, Phoebe and her friends need to find a place where they belong, and fast.

I really enjoyed GENERATION DEAD and KISS OF LIFE definitely kept my interest. However, not as much happened in this follow-up compared to the first book. It was pretty much the same formula repeated, only with danger coming from more people, not just Peter and a few anti-zombie radicals. Now it feels like the entire country is against the undead. Other than that, there is still the love triangle between Tommy, Phoebe and Adam, but it is just as uncertain by the end as it was in the first book. Phoebe loves Adam and we believe it, but their romance still has a doomed air about it.

Obviously, Waters is setting us up for a third book as he leaves many strands untied after the climactic human vs. zombie battle. We especially want to know what happens to Kelly, one of my favorite characters. Another interesting thread we get here is narration from Adam in his post-zombie state, where we can see his slow but steady progress toward movement, speech and thought. Watching his emotions develop is something I particularly enjoyed and it really settled the question of whether or not zombies can feel. Overall, a solid sequel that continues to raise interesting social issues, but nowhere near as interesting as the first.

Daniel Waters’s KISS OF LIFE comes out May 12th, 2009. Pre-order a copy today or pick it up at your favorite indie bookstore. Here are some links: Amazon, Shop Indie Bookstores

For Readers: KISS OF LIFE is a good sequel for GENERATION DEAD fans. The world feels familiar by now and the dangers are still the same: zombies vs. zombie-haters. I wish there were more elements introduced into this world. The Hunter Foundation reveal was interesting and definitely hinted at but I don’t think enough was done (yet) with that storyline. Still, the franchise is good enough that I will read the third book. Just a caveat, I don’t think you’ll be very impressed with KISS OF LIFE if you haven’t read GENERATION DEAD first.

For Writers: Take a look at how Waters uses Adam’s narration throughout the book. Adam starts with halting, one-word sentences that illustrate his zombiefied condition and ends with some pretty developed prose. It’s a good narrative technique to master, especially if one of your POV characters is undergoing some sort of radical change. Just remember: “Style imitates content.” More on that later.

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by Daniel Waters
Young Adult, 416 pages.
Hyperion (Hardcover, 2008, Paperback, 2009)
ISBN: 978-1423109228

All of a sudden, dead teenagers aren’t staying that way. Now these kids — call them zombies, undead, living impaired or the politically correct term, “differently biotic” — seem to be descending on Oakvale High School. Phoebe and her friends Adam and Margi are here to witness the new revolution unfold. Their friend Collette comes back after drowning. Sensitive zombie blogger Tommy Williams joins the football team. The Hunter Foundation, a research society for the differently biotic, sets up camp and offers an Undead Studies class. All the while, a different kind of unrest is boiling, led at school by Peter, the quarterback, who thinks the dead should stay dead. Ministers cry “Apocalypse!” and the living figure out that the differently biotic can be killed.

As Phoebe falls for Tommy Williams, who isn’t like the other zombies, who can move and smile and speak without the trademark hitch in his voice and maybe even feel, Peter comes up with a plan to put the zombies in their place (six feet under, all over again). When the undead congregate at a Haunted House on the outskirts of town for a party, Phoebe must choose between Tommy and her very human friend Adam. Little do they know that Peter and his shotgun are about to make that choice much more difficult.

People get their yaya’s in many different ways. For me, I love trashy-yet-intelligent books like THE LUXE series and catching up on the occasional VH1 reality show (Tough Love and Tool Academy, anyone?). While I like reading the mind-blowing books, like yesterday’s THE CHOSEN ONE, which I can’t stop thinking about, I really can enjoy a fun, trashy novel every once in a while. That’s what I was thinking when I picked up GENERATION DEAD, so my expectations were pretty low. Imagine my surprise when it surpassed my wildest hopes as a really, really enjoyable book that I couldn’t put down!

Not only is this a high school love story, but it verges on creating a reality where there is a believable and dangerous battle for zombie civil rights. It gets totally political and I loved it! For a book with such a fluffy cover, it manages to explore prejudice and hate issues pretty deeply and ends with a predictable but emotionally charged scene of deadly sacrifice. I know my credibility with the intellectuals out there is about to take a nosedive, but life can’t be all serious, all the time. Neither can undeath!

Tired of inarticulate, slobbering zombies? There’s no better way to develop a reverence and passion for zombie rights than picking up GENERATION DEAD and its forthcoming sequel, KISS OF LIFE!

GENERATION DEAD is out in paperback as of April, 2009. Its sequel, KISS OF LIFE, is coming out May 12th and I’m posting my review of that tomorrow. Here are links for GENERATION DEAD in paperback: Amazon, Shop Indie Bookstores

For Readers: A breezy and addictive read that manages to go surprisingly deep below the surface. Follow Tommy, Kelly, Phoebe, Margi and Adam and be sure to read Tommy Williams’s blog, MySoCalledUndeath.com, which is still maintained with regularity. If you find yourself tempted to sport an “All My Friends Are Dead” shirt after reading, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Perfect for paranormal fans, beach reading, reluctant readers and zombie fans everywhere.

For Writers: Yes, I will make a recommendation that writers read this book. The writing is actually just fine and carries the story very well. What I love about this book (and about THE LUXE series) is that Waters uses alternating POV’s in chapters and sections to really ramp up the tension. We get to see the good guys advancing toward their goals and then the bad guys plotting, all from their own unique POV’s. If you’ve never written in alternating POV, it’s a challenging but dynamite way to raise stakes and increase tension.

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by Carol Lynch Williams
Young Adult, 224 pages.
St. Martin’s Griffin (2009)
ISBN: 978-0312555115

Kyra Leigh might be Chosen to wed her uncle, Hyrum, an Apostle in their fundamentalist religious sect, but his Choice is only the beginning of the toughest one she will ever make. A thirteen year old girl raised by three mothers among a brood of brothers and sisters, Kyra knows she has to obey Prophet Childs, whose messages come to their Compound directly from God.

But she knows a few other things, too. She knows that Joshua, a neighbor boy, has feelings for her which are deeper than those she sees in most plural marriages. She knows that the books Patrick brings by every Wednesday in his Mobile Library on Wheels do not contain the word of Satan like everyone says they do. She knows that just because Prophet Childs decrees something, it isn’t always right.

Kyra and her vulnerable, extremely human family are pitted against the cold and effective machine of Prophet Childs’s zealous hold on the community. Her uncle’s desire to take her as his seventh wife puts her in the eye of a controversy that results in death threats, beatings and near-constant surveillance. She must choose between giving in to his Choice and abandoning her home and family for the terrifying freedom of the real world.

When Kyra finally chooses, the reader can intimately feel the entire weight of the world on her shoulders. And there is no happy ending. There is only hope and, for what it’s worth, the noble knowledge that truth and faith don’t have to be contradictory, violent things. THE CHOSEN ONE is a poignant, gut-wrenching story of destiny, family and the search for self in the face of great obstacles. In these brief pages, Kyra takes the stand of her life, loses everything and I will never forget it. This book is one I highly, highly recommend.

THE CHOSEN ONE comes out May 12th, 2009. Pre-order your copy today or pick it up at your favorite indie store. Here are links: THE CHOSEN ONE (Amazon), THE CHOSEN ONE (Indiebound).

For Readers: Kyra is a character who will remain with you. Invisible walls that feel stronger than any brick and mortar surround areas in everybody’s life. Williams’s honesty in writing this and Kyra’s great courage alone are worth the read. While there are a few violent or upsetting scenes, they’re crucial to the richness of the climax. One big issue here is women’s rights and gender roles. Under Prophet Childs’s watchful eye, women are second class citizens who are not allowed to act or think or speak for themselves. The brutal lessons here make this book even more unforgettable.

My galley came with a preview of the audiobook, which will be released on May 12th by Macmillan Young Listeners. Actress Jenna Lamia, from what I’ve heard so far, does a pitch-perfect version of Kyra. If you prefer listening to books, pick up a copy.

For Writers: An environment must be a character in your story. If it isn’t, you’re missing opportunities to bring out themes or manipulate the emotional impact of the work. Williams’s emotionally-charged settings are a masterpiece. From the real world, where Kyra and her family are ridiculed, to the Prophet’s office in the Temple, where danger crackles in the air, any writer can pick up the subtle yet unmistakable mood Williams sets. If your settings aren’t doing any thematic or emotional work for you, pick up THE CHOSEN ONE and see how it’s done.

I don’t think I can say this enough, but a writer can’t be afraid of consequences. Some writers tend toward unrealistic happy endings and neat topped-with-a-bow conclusions. In a lot of cases, that’s not lifelike. There are consequences for every action, good and bad, and, if you’ve done your job, your novel will have a lot of action. Don’t be afraid of putting your character in a difficult situation, it will make them more real to your readers. For one of the most emotionally raw, unsettling endings I’ve read lately — and one that hits all the right emotional buttons — read this book and see how oddly satisfying it manages to feel.

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by Cindy Pon
Young Adult, 352 pages.
Greenwillow, HarperTeen (2009)
ISBN: 978-0061730214

No suitor wants seventeen year-old Ai Ling because they think her father betrayed the Emperor many years ago. This great agony turns out to be her greatest gift. When her father disappears, she’s free to go after him, armed with the necklace she gave her when she was just a little girl: a jade pendant bearing the symbol for “Spirit.”

On her journey, Ai Ling meets brothers Chen Yong and the hilarious Li Rong. The further she journeys to find her father, the more she’s aware that her pendant seems to awaken powers in herself. She can project her spirit into another’s body and hear their thoughts, she also enjoys bursts of warrior strength when she’s in danger. Oh yes, and she’s become somewhat of an evil magnet, with every being in Chinese folklore out to get her. Will she reach the imperial palace where her father is being held hostage? Will she take the one suitor who’s been waiting to have her for centuries to save her family?

The lush plot of SILVER PHOENIX is hard to articulate here. There are imaginative monsters, family lore and danger at every turn. Through it all, Ai Ling and Chen Yong do battle, deveop deep and truthful feelings for each other and feast on lavishly described meals. Have enough bloggers mentioned that this novel makes you a hunger fiend for delicious Chinese food? (Here and here, for example.) I was reading it last night with one hand on the phone, ready for Cindy Pon to somehow communicate to me, through code in the prose, that it was okay to order something for delivery.

It turns out that Ai Ling’s powers and destiny come from the fact that she was a woman called Silver Phoenix in an earlier life. She must channel these powers near the end to overcome her greatest foe yet, but not without sacrifice. I would have loved even more emphasis on the Silver Phoenix storyline as it leads up to the climax. However, I would not change a thing about the last chapter. No matter how much glorious food there is in this novel, Cindy Pon does not let Ai Ling have her cake and eat it, too. Ai Ling triumphs over most things, but Cindy refuses to let her enjoy the romantic happy ending that most authors would’ve included. That choice made the entire book resonate more strongly with me.

If you want adventure, a great balance of tidy writing and exciting story, and a protagonist who has her strength tested in fantastic ways but learns a very real lesson about herself, check out SILVER PHOENIX — which came out yesterday. Pick up a copy for yourself and one for a friend at your favorite indie bookstore!

For Readers: A blazingly fast read that would be especially exciting for girls who like fantasy with strong character and great writing. This could even be a hit with boys who want a relatively familiar world but with a girl protagonist. While some of the conflicts can seem repetitive (monster, slay, repeat) there is great emotional content here as Cindy explores family, love and loss. I’m very, very glad that I stayed up (way too late) reading this in one enormous gulp!

For Writers: I’ve mentioned Cidny’s balancing act already but I think it bears repeating: there is a very pleasing mix here of prose and action, plot and world, love and duty, growth and obstacle. One of my favorite things about this book was the rich world-building that Cindy managed. She rendered the world in a very distinctive style, like one of her gorgeous brush paintings. And the best part about it was that, once she did this, she didn’t have to spend hardly any time at all to introduce new towns, new people, new creatures. All of these things seemed to evolve very naturally. If you’re building a world of any kind, read this book to see what total and effortless immersion feels like. The ancient Chinese landscape is such a fascinating setting, also, because of all the fantastical animals and folklore she gets to play around with. Bravo!

As some of you might know, Cindy is a great friend and resource to many in the online kidlit community. You can check out her website here and follow her on Twitter: @cindypon. She’s one of the warmest and most radiant debut writers and I couldn’t be happier for her!

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