Friday, October 03, 2008

Book of the Living Dead

Generation Dead by Daniel Waters
3Q 4P; Audience: J/S

It's not usually much of an issue if a new kid wants to join the school football team. He just tries out with all the other aspirants, and if makes the team, great. If he doesn't, no harm done. But at Oakvale High, it's not so cut-and-dried. It's complicated when the kid who tries out for the team is differently biotic. Living impaired. Dead.

There's a new phenomenon sweeping the country. Teens are dying and then reanimating. Nobody knows how and nobody knows why. This is not a horror movie come to life. The dead kids aren't flesh-eating zombies. They do most of the same things they did when they were alive. They think, communicate, and reason. They even go to school. Most of them just do it all much more slowly than the living do. A few, like Karen and Tommy, are much more animated and process things more quickly and clearly. When Tommy tries out for the football team, it's not just because he wants to play ball. He wants dead kids to be accepted into society, and he figures that taking part in things like the football team will help bring that to pass. But he knows it will be a long process, not something that happens overnight (think the Civil Rights Movement). He's right. The reactions to Tommy's decision are mostly negative. The coach wants him off the team at any cost, and Pete and his crew are only too happy to oblige. They hit Tommy hard, often, and as dirtily as they can in an effort to permanently disable him. Tommy doesn't crumble. If a living kid could take hits the way Tommy does, he'd be the star of the team. But Tommy's dead, and nothing makes him acceptable to people like the coach and Pete. Fortunately, not everyone feels the way they do. Adam, who used to be in Pete's crew, admires Tommy. It takes guts to do what he's doing. And Phoebe...Phoebe doesn't quite know why, but she's finding herself strangely attracted to him. It's not that she's into dead guys. He's just...interesting. And brave. She enjoys spending time with him. The feeling is mutual.

The dynamics between Tommy, Phoebe, Adam, and Pete drive the book. Old friendships are changing, breaking up, getting deeper, getting complicated. Past relationships color present ones and create dangerous tensions as new relationships are formed and observed. There are some people who just can't abide the thought of the dead freely mixing with the living. And they aren't going to stand idly by and let it happen. And that is not good news for Tommy and Phoebe and Adam.


I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I expected to. Waters teases his readers with things he doesn't deliver. I don't know if that's on purpose (leaving room for a sequel, maybe?) or if he and his editor just lost track of things. But are the white van sightings significant or not? Is everything on the up-and-up at the Hunter Foundation, the group that claims they want to help integrate the dead into society? There's more than one hint that the answer is no, but there's no follow-through. I also felt the lack of any explanation as to who comes back from the dead and why. ONLY teens in the United States come back? That seems far too contrived to me. I also frankly needed to see something of Pete's relationship with Julie in order to believe it really existed in anything other than his own head. He was the one character who felt over the top. As a result, I found Pete just a psycho teen, and that made the book less effective for me.

On the other hand, Phoebe, Adam, and Tommy in particular all felt like real, three-dimensional people. Waters made me care about them as well as admire them. I also appreciated that he didn't go for the goth=angst-ridden/angry/depressed stereotype. The dynamic between the three worked for me as well. I felt for Adam! It's got to be pretty tough on a guy to know that your crush prefers a dead (sorry, "differently biotic") guy to you. I wonder, though, why Waters made such a point to tell us that Adam was a bit of a jerk before he took karate lessons but never showed us anything that proved it. I wish we'd met his karate instructor at some point, too. He's obviously been an important figure in Adam's life lately. I kept expecting Adam to want to talk to him about some of the things he's trying to deal with, but it never happened.

I'm not completely con/vinced that Waters knew what kind of a book he wanted to write, but it was still an enjoyable read. And although the metaphor for the Civil Rights/Gay Rights movement isn't exactly subtle, the book offers food for thought as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Agree? Disagree? Something you'd like to say in response? Feedback is welcome! Just keep it on topic, please. And if you found one of my booktalks and used it, I'd love to know how it worked for you.