So I just barely managed to get my four books in this week--two and a half of them today! I admit to picking the two shortest books on my list, so I'm in trouble if I find myself in the same boat next week. I'll have to start marking out imaginary "commutes" in my new stay-at-home schedule--turns out you can read a lot of books in 80-90 minutes a day.
What I Read This Week:
Undead by Kirsty McKay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was a good old-fashioned zombie romp! Of the zombie books I've read--and they are becoming more numerous than I expected them to--this one is the closest to watching a traditional zombie horror movie. Now, my theory of horror movies divides them into two categories--ones where the blood spatters everywhere (awesome, fun, usually at least a little campy) and ones where the blood oozes (why do they even make these movies, they are just unpleasant from beginning to end). This is solidly in the first category. A group of teenagers, a rapidly-spreading zombie outbreak, the middle of nowhere, snow, no phones, etc. Like any zombie story worth its salt, there are some twists and turns and surprises. Was it the most thought-provoking take on zombies I've ever seen? No. But it's not trying to be. Did I have a lot of fun reading it? Definitely. It's action-packed, frequently goofy, occasionally touching, and something I think a lot of my former students would love. (A sequel is already in the works--called Unfed, which is an awesome title--and I will definitely be picking that up whenever it arrives.)
Disclaimer: I received this title as a free, advance e-book. This review is my own honest opinion.
Butter by Erin Jade Lange
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One interesting thing about this book is the way in which reading the blurb puts the reader in the same boat as many of the characters. It has one of the most arresting hooks of any book coming out this fall: Butter, the morbidly obese teenage protagonist has announced that he is going to eat himself to death. What's more, he is going to do it in one meal, broadcast live over the internet.
Will you watch?
Erin Jade Lange does a great job keeping Butter's story human, rather than veering into the easy, lurid territory of stereotypes about bullying and suicide. Butter's voice is frustrated, angry, lonely, scared, and full of the kind of hopelessness that it's so easy to truly believe when you're a teenager with a problem that seems impossible. In Butter's case, his weight has gotten so out of control that he can't imagine ever feeling normal or healthy. At school he is mostly invisible, called by a nickname that has lost all meaning to most of his classmates (one derived from a gruesome attack just before high school.) I think the best thing about this book is the way Lange captures the absolute certainty with which teenagers understand their perceptions of the world (especially negative perceptions) and then uses supporting characters to challenge some of those assumptions. Because Butter is the first-person narrator, it's easy to take his version of the truth as fact, which makes for a surprising reading experience when he learns to see things differently. I remember that certainty and that sense of hopelessness, about problems large and small. If you've ever stayed up all night certain the world is ending, only to see things differently in the light of day, you may recognize something of yourself in Butter.
Butter offers a conflicted, relatable male narrator, a realistic look at what it can feel like to be an outsider, and a unique take on issues of bullying and popularity. I recommend this to anyone looking for something a little different in contemporary YA.
I received a free, advance e-book copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As a forever theater nerd and a former actor/singer/stage manager/costume designer/sound designer/board op, I kind of loved this. Set in a middle school producing an old-fashioned musical with ridiculously complicated set and costume needs, this captures the spirit of stage crew perfectly. Some liberties are taken with details, of course (a 7th grader is making dresses with boned bodices and hoop skirts from scratch? There's an understudy but she's not expected to be at the performance?) but it gets at the sense of urgency and the can-do team spirit that characterized all of my forays into theater from middle school right up to a goofy one-day grad school show. The friendships and romances are sweet and appropriate to middle school, when things change quickly and people are still struggling to define themselves. Overall, I was totally charmed by Drama and I think anyone who did theater when they were in school would get a kick out of it.
I received a free advance e-book copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Button Down by Anne Ylvisaker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
When local football hero Lester Ward heads off to play college ball, the small town of Goodhue gets football fever. Small but scrappy Ned Button dreams of following in Lester's footsteps, but it seems impossible until he learns to take a few lessons from his ailing grandfather. I would recommend this as a readaloud for 4th or 5th graders; the story is simple but the characters are worth rooting for. A few side characters seem a little underdeveloped (most of the girls, sadly) but the main relationship between Ned and his grandfather is really likable. This is a good pick for anyone looking for a story about family, playing smart, and small victories.
I received a free, advance e-book copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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