Undead – Kirsty McKay

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Scaring Children

I am an advocate of bringing horror to the younger generation. I’ve given reasons for this elsewhere, but basically a good dose of blood and guts keeps the doctor away. I didn’t come to this book with a high expectation- when I was young and wanted some scares I typically went to the adult section, not the teen one as teen literature is (or was) too often watered down or flooded with convenient and topical issues of the day. Thankfully McKay’s Undead is neither watered down, nor riddled with forced topics from parents’ groups, media, or publishers. Yes it is still aimed at a younger audience – no explicit swearing, sex, or unnecessary violence, but we do get some shocking moments, strong building of tension, and lots of zombie mayhem.

Chew The Bones

The premise is good, and explores another avenue of the classic situational zombie convention. Be it a shopping mall, your own home, or on a bus during a school trip, zombie fiction usually follows the same format but can be given effective twists if the writer is inventive enough. Here we find a small number of misfits barricading themselves in their school bus when the outside world drops dead and decides to chew on some lovely young bones. This leads to some obvious clashing between the pretty one, the outcast, the nerd and so on, and how they must overcome their differences to keep each other alive. This never truly feels contrived, although it does feel necessary at times in order to drive the plot forwards.

Shocking Revelations

We follow the group as they try to escape and struggle to work out what has happened –  this leads to some shocking, and some not so shocking revelations. Naturally we end on a cliffhanger and the hope of a sequel. As previously mentioned there is a lot of zombie fun, but this is more in the action vein rather than being explicitly gory. There are plenty of moments which would work well on film as jump scares, and we get a few unsavoury characters to darken the mixture. There is one sad and shocking scene involving some new characters introduced halfway through, so credit to McKay for having the confidence to stick it in- usually such an event would be quickly and happily rectified, but not here.
The story is gripping, McKay writes with panache and strives to avoid the usual cliches and pitfalls of the genre, giving an exciting tale with fully realised (if typical for the market) characters, and she doesn’t back down when faced with the pressure of giving the readers a happy, Hollywood ending.

Have you read Undead? What age do you think it is appropriate to introduce children to horror media? Let us know in the comments!

Buy It Here!

Book Reviews – The Maze Runner – James Dashner

*Note – originally written in 2009 based on an unpublished advance copy provided free by Amazon.

The Maze Runner is another in a recent run of teen oriented novels which will likely be adapted for the big screen. Presumably the first part of a wider story it is full of intrigue, action, and suspense, and most importantly does not treat the target audience like a fool. There is violence, there is gore, there is an invented slang bad language so that censors and parents do not worry, and there is a rich heritage of novels which this pays respect to without simply foraging for ideas, from Lord Of The Flies, to Battle Royale. The book is set in an unspecified, dystopian future. A boy wakes with no memory of who he is and finds himself brought by a lift to a massive enclosed town called The Glade. He is the latest in a long line of boys who it seems came to the mysterious place the same way, though none of the other people seem interested in helping or answering him. He is expected to follow their rules explicitly, but as more strange events begin to occur our hero sparks a revolution which could claim or save them all. Their town has been around for quite a few years, most of the boys have spent a large part of their lives there and none of them can remember anything from before. They have arranged their society in a strict fashion with rules, jobs, and a government which is all they have to protect them from disorder and from the horrors which lie outside. The town is surrounded by a Maze which must only be investigated during the day – at night it becomes infested by half machine, half animal creatures known as Grievers which will hunt and kill remorselessly. Their only hope of escape lies in solving the maze – unfortunately the maze has a habit of shifting and modifying itself every night.

Aside from the Lost like mysterious plot, the author creates a good amount of suspense – there are many cliffhangers and set-pieces which ensure we will begin the next chapter to see what happens. Like Thomas, we only know so much and we have to follow him blindly to work out the answers to mysterious questions – why is everyone so afraid of the maze, who created the Grievers, why do certain characters hate him, how can they escape and what will they do if they can? Dashner has a gift for suspense, his characters are bold, his writing is swift and clever, and the plot is engaging thanks to the many teasing questions and revelations. As I read the book I felt it would be better suited to a high budget kids TV show, although as children’s television is in a sorry state it would be unlikely that anyone would ever take a gamble on something as expensive and probably controversial as this. The episodic nature of the book would ensure kids of all ages would be tuning in every week – I certainly would if the direction and acting were sound. As it stands this is a rip-roaring read which should capture any young reader’s imagination and leave them heartily anticipating the next installment.

Catching Fire – The Hunger Games

*Note – Review Originally written in 2009 based on a free copy draft provided by Amazon

Catching Fire (Part 2 in The Hunger Games Trilogy) picks up soon after the first book’s cliffhanger; Katniss has survived the brutal combat of The Hunger Games- a star-studded TV show similar to that from Japanese Classic Battle Royale where a group of people from the divided nation are pitted against each other to the death. Typically when this happens the survivor is free to live a life of luxury with all the food, clothes, and money they could ever want- they become a celebrity throughout the land and can put the Games and ill-treatment (if not the nightmares) behind them. Things are not so easy for Katniss- through a simple gesture in the Games she has gone against the tyrannical Capitol, making them look weak and marking herself as a rebel figurehead to a part of the population who just need such a spark to ignite them. Fearing once again for the safety of those she loves- her mother, her sister, and her maybe boyfriend, as well as the boy she saved from the games, she tries to act as the model citizen. However, it soon becomes clear that no matter what she does now the fire has already started- news of rebellion, riots, and murder reach her, and security is tightened severely on her and her home. The turning point comes halfway through the story as it is revealed that The Capitol and The Games have not finished with Katniss yet.

Catching Fire is just as exciting, fast-paced, and entertaining as the first story. Many characters are expanded on including, thankfully, many of those who had been on the fringe. There are plenty of twists and the bad guys now have a face with President Snow- an old-fashioned ‘Boo!’ as loud as you like bad guy, a devious, intelligent, and murderous leader. The book never insults the reader’s intelligence but stimulates with notions of freedom and politics which are all too invisible from teen media nowadays. The central plot is standard sequel fare; expand on the ideas which made the first succesful and throw in some interesting twists. Again most chapters end on a cliffhanger enticing you to read just one more before turning the light off. We learn more about Katniss, her past, and the history of her world. My only qualm is that this is possibly overlong, although Collins ensures that it is a fast read regardless of length. As with the first book we eagerly wait the next part.