Thursday, July 09, 2009

Yeah, We Bad, We Dangerous, We Girls

Zombie Queen of Newbury High by Amanda Ashby
3Q 4P; Audience: J

I hear YA literature is branching out from the vampire craze to focus on zombies. There are several zombie books either recently or about to be published. The first one in this batch that I came across was
Generation Dead by Dan Waters. His sequel, Kiss of Life, arrived in the library a month or so ago. I haven't read it yet, but I do hope he addresses all the holes he left wide open in Generation Dead. I'm a little curious to find out what happens with the Phoebe-Tommy-Adam triangle (what girl hasn't dreamt of falling in love with two zombies?), but I'm more inclined to flip through it rather than read it cover to cover. Generally speaking, zombies really aren't a big attraction for me. That being said, how could I resist a book with the title Zombie Queen of Newbury High? Simple answer: I couldn't.

Mia is not in the in-crowd, which makes it all the more surprising and thrilling when star football player Rob asks her out. What's not surprising is that the girls who are in the in-crowd are less than thrilled with the situation and that they intend to do something about it. What's a girl to do? Mia isn't sure, but her best friend Candice is: you go to the local magic shop and get a love potion, of course. Unfortunately, as is the way with such things, the love potion (which - caveat emptor - isn't exactly what it's advertised to be) goes awry. Suddenly everywhere she turns, students and even teachers are giving her cupcakes and kissing up to her. It would all be very flattering, if new boy Chase hadn't spoiled it all with the news that they're merely trying to fatten her up for the zombie feast they're planning. It seems that the entire school is about to be zombified, and it's all Mia's fault. If she doesn't find a way to stop the spell, the after-prom early morning breakfast is going to be her. ::ulp::

This is a quick, fun read. It's a great beach book or one to pick up when you're stressed with tests and papers and need something fun to relax you. It's not likely to be a book you remember as one that made a huge impact on your life. But who says every book has to be deep and significant?

The School for Dangerous Girls by Eliot Schrefer
3Q 3P; Audience: J/S

Hidden Oak is a school of last resort. If a girl has been thrown out of every other school, that's the kind of girl Hidden Oak wants. It's Hidden Oak's mission to take troubled girls and turn them into law-abiding models of society. They have a very high success rate. Many of their girls graduate and never step a foot out of line afterwards. They've learned to accept rules, maybe even to welcome them. But the girls who can't accept the rules, the girls who refuse to change...well, the world doesn't have to know about them. Those are the girls who disappear. They're never discussed, and they're never seen again. And you'd better believe that that makes them the really dangerous girls.

Mia is sent to Hidden Oaks after one too many incidents, culminating in one that leads to her grandfather's death. It's an eye-opening experience. Her cell phone is confiscated, there's no computer access, phone calls are not allowed, emails and letters are censored. Students are not to share the stories of their past indiscretions. The girls have individual and group therapy daily. Every rule of behavior must be strictly adhered to, or harsh punishment will swiftly follow. (Solitary confinement is a frequent option.) As the days and weeks go by, girls start disappearing, usually without explanation. Mia learns that some girls are promoted to the gold thread, where they live in a slightly less strict environment with regular classes and the chance to interact more normally with the other girls. But some of the girls just disappear. They're in the purple thread, and nobody want to talk about what happens to them. Is Mia purple or gold?

Mia winds up in the gold thread, but her rebellious nature isn't prepared to toe the line. That's especially true when she finds out about what happens to the purple thread girls and what the school's real intentions are. She's not going to take this sitting down. There has to be a way to close down this school. There may be indeed, but she'll never find it if the school succeeds in closing her down first. And they're going to do everything in their power to do just that.

I don't know why, but while I was reading this book, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I didn't know for a long time what kind of book I was reading. Was this a tongue-in-cheek book, full of girl power and twists and turns, or was it exactly what it appeared to be? I don't know why I expected it to be the former rather than the latter. Perhaps it had something to do with the title, which (as it turns out) is meant to be taken absolutely literally, but which I assumed at first was hinting at something more along the lines of Ally Carter's
I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You or Michael Spradlin's Spy Goddess. But this is not those books. My bad. I don't know why it took me so long to accept that. It was definitely a problem on my end, not the author's.

What Schrefer does best is the way he keeps leading his readers on, intriguing them with a hint here and a scrap of information there. I couldn't help but want to know what happened to all those missing girls and just why the purple thread was such a fearful label. And the payoff to that is real. Other reviews make reference to The
Lord of the Flies, and it's an apt comparison. These girls are truly feral, and their situation is desperate. I admired Mia for her passion to fight against the wrongs being done to the girls. But those wrongs are where I felt the book went a bit astray. At some point, I have to believe that much of the faculty would step up to say that enough is enough, and that there's a point at which discipline passes into mistreatment or worse. That nobody does was hard to swallow. The romance angle was stretched past believability. Nobody would step in and stop the one teenage boy from playing Romeo with the girls? In a school like this? I have similar problems with the ending of the book and the role of one person in particular. It didn't seem to follow from what is set up earlier in the book. So I give this book points for an interesting main character and for the suspense it builds in the early parts as well as for the pulse-raising sequences involving the menaces of life among the purple thread. But that early promise didn't hold up throughout the book for me.

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