Blog of the Dead: Eisha, Adrienne and Little Willow
tri-review Generation Dead

h1 August 9th, 2008 by eisha

Seriously, it’s a great cover.How lucky am I? I convinced Adrienne of What Adrienne Thinks About That to do another co-review with me, and I also talked Little Willow of Bildungsroman into joining the fray. And we’re talking about Generation Dead by Daniel Waters, which is all about teenage zombies. How perfect, since we’re all so into supernatural YA fiction, right? Well… read on.

First, though, let me tell you a little about the plot: For no reason that scientists can determine, American teenagers have started coming back from the dead. They can walk and talk, but they don’t eat, breathe, or sleep. Since they’re obviously a little creepy, and there aren’t any laws in place to protect the recently-deceased, they face a lot of problems with discrimination, ridicule, and even violence when they try to go about their un-lives. Quite a few of them have started attending Oakvale High, because it has a reputation of being tolerant toward the Living Impaired. Goth-girl Phoebe is intrigued by the phenomenon, especially because one of her former best friends has become a zombie, and there are some painful unresolved issues between them. She’s also intrigued by the attractive Tommy Williams, who seems to function better than most of the zombies and has even joined the football team. Phoebe’s nice-jock friend Adam is less interested, because he’s recently realized that he wants more than friendship with Phoebe and is less than thrilled by having a dead guy as competition. Nevertheless, he agrees to join her in a new discussion group/work study program created by the Hunter Foundation to foster greater understanding between zombies and the living.

We avoided major spoilers here, so you should be safe. Also, this is cross-posted at Bildungsroman and WATAT, for your tripled enjoyment. Read on!

* * * * * * *

eisha: So, ladies. I’ll start off by saying that I liked this book. It has an interesting and original take on zombie-ism, and I thought the way Waters used it to convey ideas about prejudice, hate crimes, social law, and societal reform was pretty cool. Also, I think this is one of my favorite covers of 2008.

However, I didn’t love the book. There were some significant flaws in the writing, and in the plot, that kept me from fully immersing myself in the story.

Did I mention how much I love the cover?

How about you, Little Willow? What’s your overall impression?

Little Willow: The book fell short of my expectations. I wanted to know why and how people were becoming zombies. I wanted more science, more medical history, more details. Granted, not all of the characters would have fully understood or cared about the science behind the zombification, but don’t you think that they, along with the rest of the world, would want to know MORE? Yes, it was said that the newly undead were almost exclusively American teenagers and that it was possibly because they ate a lot of junk food packed with preservatives, but that was it, really — and that wasn’t enough for me, not nearly.

Soulless by Christopher GoldenThere are novels which do explore scientific processes without overtaking the main plotline – in other words, satisfying geeks like me and making things plausible without boring those who are not interested in such things. Some titles which immediately come to mind are The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson [ed. note: co-reviewed here by eisha and Adrienne], the futuristic, tongue-in-cheek I Was a Teenage Popsicle and Beyond Cool by Bev Katz Rosenbaum, and the heart-racing, apocalyptic Soulless by Christopher Golden.

Soulless is also about zombies. It’s so action-packed that I’ve taken to calling it a movie bound in a book. Like Generation Dead, Soulless moves back and forth between different characters and storylines, but unlike Generation Dead, Soulless kept me guessing. It had a lot of twists and turns. I love its exploration of family ties, and the questions it raised: Do we want to see our loved ones again after they pass away? If they return as zombies, unlike their living selves, would they be better left to rest in peace? And the book’s climax – wow. Soulless is coming out in October, and, if you couldn’t tell, I highly recommend it.

Les Revenents, a.k.a. They Came BackAdrienne: I was so excited about this book when I saw the cover and heard the concept. I’m a HUGE fan of zombie movies, and I loved Max Brooks’ World War Z–but Generation Dead didn’t quite do it for me. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it, either. I think part of it is that Waters did away with a lot of the things I’ve come to expect of the zombie genre: rotting corpses, eating brains, that kind of thing. (It reminded me a bit of my experience watching a French zombie film called They Came Back. Leave it to the French to make a zombie film that’s totally depressing.) Little Willow mentioned missing the background and science, which I’d have to agree with, but one of the things I most enjoy about the zombie genre is that the best films/books operate on a metaphorical level. I mean, George Romero tells us over and over that plenty of people who are alive behave like they’re dead, and he’s got a point, which is why his films endure. In Generation Dead, I guess Waters is going for that–he certainly contrasts the emotionally dead behavior of characters like Adam’s alcoholic stepfather and uber-dumb-jock Pete with the more full-bodied behavior of the zombies, but he could have done that even if, say, Tommy wasn’t a zombie. Their behavior contrasts equally with other living characters, like Adam and Phoebe, so… I don’t know. I can’t put my finger on it. It refuses to gel for me. What do you-all think?

eisha: I definitely think he was going for metaphor here. Certainly in the way you describe, but also in the way the zombies – ahem, I mean “living impaired” – ahem-AHEM, I mean “Differently Biotic” – are perceived and treated by the living. They have no legal rights, they suffer all kinds of abuse from the a fearful and disgusted society, ranging from name-calling to being set on fire, and nobody wants them dating their children. Some people even seem to think they’re contagious. Sound familiar? He uses zombies as a stand-in for virtually every disenfranchised and oppressed minority group you can think of. I did think there were times when that worked well, particularly in terms of Tommy’s political activism. The contrast between his non-violent, change-the-world-through-information approach and that of the people who threw produce at him during the football game was effective.

But little, unrelated things kept bugging me throughout the novel and distracting me from the story. Like, weird antiquated words like “codger” coming out of teens’ mouths. And the excessively frequent references to karate and how much Adam has changed for the better from taking it (I started hearing the cheesy ’70s pronunciation in my mind every time I came across the word: “kah-rah-TAY”). And the hints of side plots that were actually interesting, but weren’t fully pursued: what’s really up with the Hunter Foundation, and who’s behind the white van attacks? I wonder if those are meant for a sequel? The end clearly set us up for one. If there is a sequel, would you read it? What advice would you give Daniel Waters the second time around? And where do you stand in the eternal zombie vs. unicorn debate?

Unico!Little Willow: Unicorns are friends, friendly, and flyers. Zombies might try to kill me and eat my brains. I’d much rather have a unicorn than a zombie.

(I am now picturing Unico doing kah-rah-TAY, and I am amused.)

Adrienne: Personally, I’ve been taking unicorns much more seriously since I read the Harry Potter books. Not as seriously as centaurs, but still. One thing about zombies is that they’re usually slow, so I like my odds there. I do not like my odds with the fast zombies in 28 Days Later, though.

Little Willow: I would have preferred it if the book had one storyline fully pursued, detailed, and realized than have had so many loose ends and unanswered questions. It all felt very unfulfilled.

By the way, while we three were all discussing this, I passed the book along to another friend. We discussed it after she finished it. She, like me, also wanted more background and science in the story, and she felt as though there were some plotholes. A few days later, another friend picked it up and read it in a day. She really liked the book and is clamoring for a sequel. The three of us then talked about the possibility of a second book. The ending of this book could easily lead itself to a continuation.

Carrie, in pig’s blood, at the prom.Adrienne: Even with the plotholes, some of the writing was really fun. I particularly loved Margi’s dialog (“Ohmigawd, that was the longest history class ever. I think I actually became a historical figure in the time it took for that class to end.”). I also liked that Waters threw in a reference to one of my favorite zombie films, Return of the Living Dead, and an uncited reference to Carrie (“Someone could dump a bucket of pig’s blood over my head, and I could make the school explode with my telepathetic powers.”) I always enjoy the writing of people who like things I like.

eisha: Yeah, there were some very clever bits of dialog that I thoroughly enjoyed. Adam and Phoebe sometimes had some nice repartee, as did Phoebe and Margi.

Little Willow, I totally hear you on the lack of science. It was another of the plot threads that seemed to be leading somewhere, but instead just trailed off. I wonder if that’s something that will be addressed in a potential sequel, too? It seemed tied up with the Hunter Foundation’s research. So, if there ever is a sequel outside my own imagination, I’d like to see that particular plotline explored more fully.

As for zombies vs. unicorns, Adrienne makes a good point about unicorns being faster than zombies, and they are certainly a force to be reckoned with. Especially since I think I lost… um… the privilege of keeping their company a long time ago. But zombies can still look like people until they’re pretty close to you, so I’m not sure that being faster than they are is such an advantage. I’m gonna stick with unicorns.

Behold this cover in all its glory. I know we’re going on about it, but just look at it!Femmes, I thank you for agreeing to this discussion. Do either of you have any closing thoughts you wanna throw down?

Little Willow: In brief, I felt that the concept of Generation Dead was better than its execution. It had some interesting ideas, and I liked bits and pieces here and there, but the happenings were occasionally predictable. Kudos to the photographer Ali Smith and the art designer Elizabeth H. Clark for the great cover.

Adrienne: It looks like there will be a sequel (see Dan’s blog). It will be interesting if he reveals a bit more about what he was thinking with some of those loose threads, although after my experience with this and Breaking Dawn, I feel like I might need a little break from the undead. Maybe I’ll start reading books about two-headed dogs.

eisha: True dat.

* * * * * * *

What the neighbors thought:

* LibrariAnne: loved it.

* Bookshelves of Doom: not so much.

* KarinLibrarian: also loved it.

* Mel Odom at Blogcritics: mixed, but thinks the target audience will dig it.

* Y.A. New York: gave it a perfect 10. Huh.

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19 comments to “Blog of the Dead: Eisha, Adrienne and Little Willow
tri-review Generation Dead

  1. We have to do this again sometime.


  2. Yes, it was fun, as always.


  3. Boy, and I love the cover of Soulless, too.


  4. It IS great, isn’t it? You may have to postpone your moratorium on the undead long enough to read it.


  5. I just finished this book yesterday and had some of the same concerns and irritations and you guys. I was dying to find out what the Hunter Foundation was up to and where the heck Sylvia disappeared to. I kinda hated how it ended. I guess I didn’t think it was being set up for a sequel, but it makes sense.


  6. RE: Cover of Soulless: Isn’t it gorgeous + creepy? It definitely befits the book.


  7. Yeah, Jenny, the Sylvia thing bugged me too! It was just too sinister a build-up to just end up not telling us.


  8. Having read your review, I requested The Adoration of Jenna Fox from the library. It sounds as though it might deal with some of the same themes as Eva by Peter Dickinson– one of my favorites.


  9. YAY, kathe! I’ve never read Eva, but it seems like someone else mentioned a similarity somewhere – maybe another review? Anyway, I hope you like it too.


  10. It’s sad that the book wasn’t great – it seemed like it had a lot of potential that it didn’t live up to. It had a great cover, too, but… uh… well, you know the cliche.

    Also, I’d like to go on record as saying that I approve of any review that references Unico.


  11. kathe: Enjoy Jenna! I really did.

    Dana: Yay for Unico. Thanks!


  12. What fun to come home to this…woot! Go, ladies, go.

    I read about 3/4 of this book. And the primary reason I didn’t finish it? It was one of those poor, poor titles that I was reading when I was smack-dab in the middle of my blog identity crisis, which is why I opted out of this tri-review, as you know. I simply put down everything I was reading to take a big ‘ol break and give my reason for blogging a resuscitation.

    Anyway, so I can’t FAIRLY speak about this book, not having finished it, but you all did cover some of the things that bugged me, too (lack of science, for one — word to that, Little Willow) and the things I liked, including Waters using zombies as a metaphor for the disenfranchised, the minority groups of the world. I think that worked very well for the chunk of the book I read. But I have nothing profound to add, having plowed through it in the midst of the time leading up to our tantrum — and me with a bad attitude, too, about everything I was reading. Hee. Plus, you ladies covered it all in this entertaining tri-review.

    And with lots of interesting images, too, including the first time pig’s blood has appeared on our blog.


  13. I love reading these. I wish we did something like this over at the Graphic Classroom. [Ahem: PLUG] Wait for my friend Andy Deane’s novel-to-be-publshed-around-October /The Sticks/ (previously called /The Party Crasher/), which will be Virginia hillbilly zombilicious. [/end plug]


  14. I enjoyed this one…just finished it. I assumed that the Hunter Foundation was up to no good, and I also assumed that there would be a sequel explaining more of the science. I will have to read some of the other titles in your book chat, however, to expand my zombie knowledge!


  15. [...] Three 7-Imps chat about Generation Dead and other books for your brrrrrrains. [...]


  16. Dana, good way to put it. I really wanted to love this book, and for me it didn’t quite make it.

    Jules, really? This is the first pigs’ blood reference? Odd. I bring it up in conversation all the time.

    SchoeyChaelly – I am sold. How can I resist a phrase like “Virginia hillbilly zombilicious”?

    Stacy, glad you enjoyed it. A lot of other people seem to have loved it – to each her own.


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  18. I haven’t read this book, I kind of want to but I’m just not so sure, it seems like it might be too cliche. I’ve read too many of those and most of them I didn’t like, I wouldn’t want to waste my time reading something bad. :) I think I might give it a shot though, just ..not right now.


  19. omg!!! i loved generation dead… i read it a long time ago… but then i found this blog and was soo excited about reading the next!!! i cant wait… and thanks for the book idead!!! and if u have any info on good books i can gets guys to read please spill!!!


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