“Generation Dead” by Daniel Waters

17 Jun


"Generation Dead" has one of the great covers around right now. Scroll down to the image directly below this review and take a look at the forlorn zombie cheerleader. How awesome is that, right? I figured "Generation Dead" would be a campy, fun diversion — the flap actually reads, "Phoebe is just your typical goth girl with a crush. He's strong and silent … and dead." Alas, there's nothing remotely breezy or fun about this story, which alternately stretches to be an issue novel, a coming-of-age tale, and a love story. Unfortunately, it's not terribly successful on any of these fronts.

Quick plot setup: Phoebe is our goth girl, living in a USA where, with some frequency, dead teenagers return from the grave. These undead are called everything from "differently biotic" to your straight-up zombie label, which reflects their controversial position in society. Some folks want to burn them at the stake, while others see human beings struggling with a kind of life after death. The zombies have varying levels of functionality. Some, like the beautiful, diamond-eyed Karen, can pass for living humans, they are so graceful and expressive. Others, like Phoebe's once friend Colette, are stiff, awkward, and incredibly delayed in their thoughts and reaction times.

Phoebe is cast as an outsider in this novel, but we never sense any real distance from her classmates, other than the obnoxious bully Pete and his sidekick TC. Phoebe and her best friend Margi's dark looks are treated more like an ironic fashion statement than anything else. Her best friend is her neighbor, Adam, the popular football star who was once friends with Pete, but who has changed after a summer of karate and deep thoughts. This all seems pretty typical, right? The only wrench thrown into the mix is the presence of the zombie teens, particularly one Tommy Williams, who always seems to be staring longingly at Phoebe from across the hallway. Phoebe finds herself intrigued by this handsome, kind dead boy, and I figured their seemingly doomed relationship would be the crux of the story.

Except, not so much. Honestly, it's amazing how quickly the wheels come off this whole novel, as Tommy morphs from a quiet, serious boy who cares only for Phoebe into this rather one-note crusader for undead rights. Phoebe and Tommy's relationship goes absolutely nowhere, the triangle with Adam doesn't quite get off the ground, and a bizarre subplot about a zombie research institute and possible government conspiracy is explored and then dropped completely. Hrm. The tone of the book veers wildly about as well, spinning from playful scenes between Phoebe and Adam to dark, violent moments and back again. Also, and I guess I should have seen this coming, but I tend to get a little cranky when a 392 page book crashes to an abrupt halt after a prolonged buildup, apparently to be continued in another novel.

In the end, the concept here is much better than the execution, which is a shame. If you do give "Generation Dead" a try, I think it's pretty squarely a late middle school / high school book. Nothing too offensive sticks out in my mind from reading it, aside from the occasional curse or outbreak of violence. See what you think … maybe you'll like it more than I did.

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Posted by on June 17, 2008 in Uncategorized


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