Don Borchert. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead. Tor, 2010. ISBN 978-0765327291 304 pp. $
Another volume in the vein of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Undead is prefaced with a note to this new edition, setting the story within an invented historical context that leaves room for the Zums (zombies).
Borchert rewrites the American classic Tom Sawyer, setting the tale in 19th century overrun with the zombies. Literally a chapter by chapter revision with the same characters and scenes, the author can be commended on maintaining the voice, style and structure of the original novel with some rather clever twists, such as Tom sharpening the picket fence stakes, instead of whitewashing them. The zombies in the cave that Tom and Becky get lost in, however, are no surprise. The conclusion hints at a sequel, and I predict a Huck Finn versus river monsters of some kind tale is in the making.
Overall, this book is no more–or no less, I suppose–thrilling than other similar novels jumping on the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies bandwagon. It will appeal to those fans who want more of the same. Tom’s pranks are timelessly engaging, but at it’s heart, Tom Sawyer is a book for children while Huckleberry Finn is one for teens, and the youthful protagonist, squeaky clean story and dated language are unappeal factors, zombies notwithstanding.
Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Crown, 2010. ISBN 978-1400052172 368 pp. $
I really want to love this book! I’ve seen great reviews of it, and think it’s an important topic–a culture of one African America woman’s cancer cells have divided and multiplied at a phenomenal rate since the 1950s, and they are still used today for a number of important medical tests and procedures. Although the HeLa cells are
named for her, she was never asked permission for those cells to be cultured and used, and never received a dime for them.
Henrietta Lack’s biography is interspersed with author Skloot’s tale of first hearing about these amazing cells, researching them, and tracking down family members and medical personnel to get the full story, and the tale is interwoven with biology, civil rights and the medical science.
I’m finding it absolutely fascinating and highly readable, but I’m a former biology major. I’m finding it a little disorganized to boot.
Delinksy, Barbara. Not My Daughter. Doubleday, 2010. ISBN 978-0385524988 352 pp. $24.95
Told from the point of view of a high school principal and former teenage mom, Susan is horrified to discover that her responsible 17-year-old daughter Lily is more than 3 months pregnant–and she’s not revealing who the dad is. Even more astounding: two of Lily’s friends are pregnant as well, and it’s suspected that a fourth student is still trying to conceive.
Set in small town in New England, this tale of a pregnancy pact is a microcosm of what happened at Gloucester (MA) High School in 2008. Susan has a second business with her three best friends, dyeing and selling yarn and knits goods, and the crisis may impact this business as well. Knitting plays heavily into the plot, and the author’s correlation of the plot’s complexities using the metaphor of knitting is a bit heavy-handed.
Delinksy uses recurring stock characters in her novels. The intelligent and somewhat self-centered teen, the hard-working single mom that finds romance, and the controlling husband all make an appearance here. Juggling the stories of so many characters means that no one in particular really develops any degree of depth, and the ending is tidily, predictably resolved.
Charlie Huston, Sleepless. Ballantine, 2010. ISBN 978-0345501134 368 pp. $
The premise of this confusingly narrated novel is revealed on page 36: about a year ago, 10% of the population began experiencing a weird disease that prevents them from sleeping, and within a year, leads to death. It’s now a widespread epidemic. Narcotics cop Park is part of an undercover investigation to find a black market drug called Dr33m3r that is a cure for the disease; heightening the stakes his wife and
newborn daughter both have the disease. The story is told from an omniscient POV, Park’s first person diary entries (unlabelled) and an unknown third character.
It’s so hard to get a grip on this story, because the reader is immediately catapulted into gritty gripping action scenes, but they don’t appear to be connected right away, and it’s unclear who is speaking, with poor transitions and little characterization. I set this aside after four chapters.
Golden, Christopher. The New Dead: A Zombie Anthology. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010. ISBN 978-0312559717 400 pp. $
This strong collection centered on the reanimated begins with a take on the story of Lazurus, casting him as a zombie, and concludes with a tale using Twitter as a plot device–a girl on a forced family vacation posts frequent disdainful updates about the road trip and how much she hates her mom. The family detours to see a circus act, and thinks the special effects are so realistic! until they realize it’s a zombie circus! This was a fabulous story, but the 140 character posts (complete with proper punctuation) don’t utilize any chat speak, so come off an inauthentic, though, the voice is a good attempt. With a true Twitter feed, the story would be posted most to least recent. It’s possible the ending would have been given away by doing this (an editors note to flip to the final page and read BACK could have taken care of this), but it made the story not ring as true. A feed at http://twitter.com/tyme2waste is a pretty clever
Several stories in between are concerned with the return of soldiers. One is experimental and repetitive and hard to get through. Two have wonderfully inventive premises, one casting zombies as servants, another as science experiments. Two stories in particular really stood out to me: one, titled Family Business, is about two brothers; Tommy, the elder is a zombie hunter, and his younger brother Benny, who has just turned 15, is reluctant to join him, and explores a variety of jobs generated through necessity after a zombie invasion, and finally goes on a ride along with his brother, and finds it enlightening. This was a wonderful story on so many levels–easy to relate to characters, highly readable, teen protagonist, creativity and humor, well written.
Golden has assembled an impressive array of writers to deliver sexy, profane, gory, and thought provokingly macabre stories, cleverly arranged, and well edited. Move over, vampires and werewolves–ZOMG ZOMBIES! are the new hawtness.
Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. One Amazing Thing. Hachette, 2010. ISBN 978-1401340995 240 pp. $23
Nine strangers are trapped in an immigration office in the aftermath of an earthquake, and to pass their time until rescue, share stories about their lives. The multicultural cast of characters spans age and class as well as ethnicity.
I read to the end of this, and was frustrated by what I felt was an unresolved ending, and while the descriptive writing was strong, I didn’t get a distinct voice from each character’s story. This felt really contrived, to me.
Sturm, James. Market Day. Drawn and Quarterly, 2010. ISBN 978-1897299975 96 pp. $21.95
This wonderfully subtle story set in the early 1900s about an artisan rug maker trying to make ends meet as he starts a family is lovely, but slow and dark. His craft is being replaced by cheap machine-made carpets. The spare writing and flat illustrations are marvelously done. I especially loved the transitions between Mendelman’s observations and the rugs he weaves and how the tones shift to brighter (though still muted ones) when he comes hopefully upon a new venue to sell his wares.
Stiefvater, Maggie. Linger. Scholastic, 2014 (reprint). ISBN 978-0545682794 368 pp. $10.99
After defying the odds and restoring werewolf-boyfriend Sam’s humanity, Grace Brisbane dreams of a future far away from the small town of Mercy Falls, Minnesota, and its dark secrets. No longer at the mercy of his animal instincts, Sam struggles to create an identity separate from the wolf pack that represents the only family he has ever known. That bond is soon tested by the addition of the new “recruits,” turned by Sam’s mentor and father figure, Beck, in a final act of desperation to ensure the survival of the pack.
The narrative voices of Grace and Sam are joined in this installment by Isabel, who despite losing her brother Jack to the wolves, is irresistibly drawn to Cole, a bona fide rock star determined to live the rest of his life shrouded in the new found anonymity provided by his lupin alter ego. Together the four must come to terms with their inner demons, and choose a future among humans or wolves. But is the choice really theirs to make? Faced with mounting pressure from parents and police alike, Grace and Sam frantically struggle to control events threatening to tear them apart.
In the much anticipated sequel to her best-seller Shiver, Stiefvater deftly advances the story of her star-crossed lovers, who are no longer fighting to be together, but to remain together. This second book in the series raises the stakes for the central characters as they are confronted with the consequences of their actions, and leaves readers anxiously awaiting the conclusion.
Salwen, Kevin & Hannah Salwen. The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. ISBN 978-0547248066 242 pp. $
This motivational tale of a family who, spurred on by their teen daughter Hannah’s altruistic desires, sold their McMansion in Atlanta GA and donated half of the proceeds to the Hunger Project is meant to demonstrate a relatable way to make a difference: choose a number, like 50%, and commit to donating or cutting that amount from your life. There are going to be some who just can’t relate to what the Salwens were are to sacrifice, or having generous neighbors who agree to slash the price on a property they are selling and donate an additional $100,000 to a charitable endeavor.
Dad Kevin shares getting caught up in the rat race to improve/upgrade with each promotion, and how being more “successful” served to fragment the family in ways they weren’t even really aware until they made changes. I read through the first half of the book, which covers the background of the family, incorporates facts about everything from world hunger to how much people donate to charity, and includes the details of what may be, to some parents, a unique and visionary decision-making process for making immense lifestyle changes: letting the votes of the children count as much of that of the parents.
High schooler Hannah lends her voice in suggesting activities for readers at regular intervals, to help them begin to make a difference in the world around them. Sharing that the son Joseph used the project to enter a documentary competition (that he won) and then squandered the majority of the prize money on a new guitar (with the agreement of the rest of the family) doesn’t sit well with me–their reasoning was it was his money, and their project was about the money from the house.
I think this could have used stronger editing. I found it repetitive in details and slow moving, and the parts by Hannah didn’t seem strategically placed, often breaking up the narrative. I don’t think her enthusiasm comes through, and she is the driving force behind the project. Tighter editing and more Hannah would make this more appealing, and convinced me to see it through all the way to the end, but I’m setting it aside.
Hannah, Kristin. Winter Garden. St. Martin’s Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0312364120 394 pp. $
This story of two sisters with a very cold and distant Russian mother opens in 1972, with mom getting upset when the sisters try to retell one of the fairy tales she tells them in play format at a Christmas party. Flashforward to the year 2000, and the dad, who is the lynchpin of the family, is ailing, and insists that his oldest daughter Meredith promise to get to know her mother. She and her globetrotting photographer sister Nina accomplish this by pushing their mother to finish sharing a particular fairytale about a peasant girl who falls in love with a prince.
The writing is notable only for containing too much description (down to what each character is wearing) and Mere is defined as having a Julia Roberts look to her. This may be a pet peeve of mine, but I HATE when authors do this! A. the reader may not know who the celeb is; B. the celeb may not be relevant in a few years, and C. inability to describe your characters on their own merits doesn’t signal great writing.