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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Generation Dead by Daniel Waters

It took me months to read this book, and I first attributed that to it being boring. But on further thought (and after finally finishing it) I don’t think boredom was a factor. Read on and I’ll give you my ideas on why this book was a long-haul read for me and why that shouldn't stop you from picking it up.

Summary: Phoebe is your typical gothy high school girl – listening to bands whose names sound like the titles of Victorian-era gothic romance novels, dressing in all black, and hanging out with the undead. Okay, so maybe that last part isn’t SO typical. It’s a result of Phoebe living in a world where dead teens have started coming back and re-joining the world of the living, even if they aren’t exactly living, but the usual definition. These “differently-biotic” teens are a mystery, and the theories abound as to why they come back, and why only some kids come back. Some of them seem almost alive, walking and talking like any other teen; others seem more like Hollywood zombies, with jerky movements and halting speech patterns.

Navigating this brave new world with Phoebe are her two best friends. Margi is Phoebe’s goth other half, but is still reeling from the death (and subsequent return) of their friend Colette. Because of this, Margi is less comfortable with the “dead kids” and this causes friction in the relationship between Phoebe and Margi.

Adam is Phoebe’s next-door neighbor and other best friend. The two are a strange pair; he’s a football player, seeming a polar opposite to Phoebe. But the two are united by a shared childhood, Phoebe’s understanding of Adam’s home difficulties, and by the fact that each cares strongly for the other in a way that neither will admit.

Now throw Tommy into the mix. Tommy is a “differently biotic” student who decides to join the football team. This causes a variety of responses, and brings a firestorm of media attention on Oakvale High. Should a zombie be allowed to play with the living kids?

This attention brings in the Hunter Foundation, a group whose stated aim is to help the “differently biotic” become more accepted in society. They set up an elective/work co-op at the school to encourage a dialogue between the living and the dead. Phoebe, Margi, and Adam all join, as does Tommy. It is within the group meetings of this class that some of the most poignant (yes, I do mean that word!) moments of the book come about. But it also has moments that could be taken from any support-group meeting.

How will the group deal with each other, their own feelings, and the danger posed by those who are less than understanding? That is the question in this, the first book in a series.

Review: I think one of the things that initially turned me off this book was how predictable it was to me. The goth girl stock character seems to be the new “it girl” of YA lit. There is almost always a popular, handsome, and athletic boy who has a crush on her but doesn’t let her know until a pivotal moment in the book. Margi is the typical best friend who is also goth, and they have a disagreement that alienate them for a while in the story. It’s very formulaic in that way.

What made me keep reading? Well, at first it was the prompting from one of my students who was somewhat patiently waiting for me to finish reading. Then I started looking at the novel differently. It is a novel with an important theme: hate and the results of that hate. Throughout the novel, the characters deal with those who hate the “differently biotic” for the simple reason that there are there. There are attacks, both verbal and physical, on characters both living and dead. The dead characters are, overall, shown in a very sympathetic light. But just like in real life, there are characters on both sides of the issue that keep adding fuel to the fire of conflict.

After I finished reading, I couldn’t stop wondering about some of the issues from the novel. How would people react in a situation like this? Would we find ourselves in the middle of the next Civil Rights movement? Would there be people out there who would make it their goal to send all these reanimated dead back to their graves? Even the issue of citizenship is addressed – are you still a citizen once your death certificate has been filed? Do you have any rights? These are the type of unanswerable questions that make a book stick in my mind, and thanks to this, I will be buying the rest of the series, just to see how the author addresses these issues.

I suppose, when it comes right down to it, this is a book I will be recommending to my students because, despite the formulaic elements of the plot, it will make them think! If they find themselves wondering about even a fraction of the questions I was left with, it will be a win. I’m all for a book that will have them wondering long after the last page has been read.

Hate/Racism (is it racism – is being dead a race?)
Standing by personal convictions

Age Appropriateness:
Grades 7 & up

Areas of concern (content):
Foul Language: mild
Nudity/Adult Content: very mild
Violence: Mild

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