Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Zombie Tag - Review

Title: Zombie Tag

Author: Hannah Moskowitz
Release Date: December 20, 2011
Format/Page Count: Kindle Edition, 240 pages
Synopsis: Wil is desperate for his older brother to come back from the dead. But the thing about zombies is . . they don’t exactly make the best siblings. Thirteen-year-old Wil Lowenstein copes with his brother’s death by focusing on Zombie Tag, a mafia/
capture the flag hybrid game where he and his friends fight off brain-eating zombies with their mothers’ spatulas. What Wil doesn’t tell anybody is that if he could bring his dead brother back as a zombie, he would in a heartbeat. But when Wil finds a way to summon all the dead within five miles, he’s surprised to discover that his back-from-the-dead brother is emotionless and distant.  In her first novel for younger readers, Moskowitz offers a funny and heartfelt look at how one boy deals with change, loss, and the complicated relationship between brothers. (From GOODREADS)
Expectation: Extremely high. Poor Hannah Moskowitz had a LOT to live up to--most recently, INVINCIBLE SUMMER. It's hard to live up to the expectations of a reader who loved your last work.    
Market/Genre: Middle Grade, Zombie, Hannah Moskowitz Brothers (Yes...Hannah seems to be starting her own genre. And doing frighteningly well at the dynamics between brothers) (-:
“Graham and I spit on our hands and promised we would never, ever grow up. He’s not going to get out of that just by dying.” ~ Hannah Moskowitz, Zombie Tag

“Talking to you is like talking to myself.” ~ Hannah Moskowitz, Zombie Tag (This is a truism for ALL brothers in the throes of their child years together. It’s a shame we forget it when we grow up.)

ZOMBIE TAG has very little to do with zombies. Don’t tell Hannah Moskowitz I said that. I will deny it vehemently.

This was, quite frankly, a beautiful read. You can see by the synopsis that it really does have a lot to do with zombies. But the undercurrent of this book is not quite an undercurrent. It screams to the reader from the gate. This is a Peter Pan tale. This is a story about the complications of being a brother, and about not ever wanting to lose the bonds that brothers have in childhood. It’s about knowing when it’s okay to be intimate with your brother and knowing when it’s not okay. It’s about knowing when to wrestle and hurt each other. It’s about sleeping out in a tent under the stars and talking to each other about the wonders of life and the fear of death when it’s dark and you can no longer see each other and you know precisely what the other one looks like; the expression on his face, the way his hands are worrying into fists and stretching out into wings at his sides as he describes the way he thinks death might be. This is a story that every brother should read. And a story that everybody who was never a brother of a brother should read so they know that boys can have big hearts too, boys can be intimate and filled with dreams too.

Okay. What you see above is not quite a review. It was more about the emotional rollercoaster I went through yesterday as I read ZOMBIE TAG. I’m still relatively new at reviews. I’ll try to bring it back down to earth now.

Wil. Wilson. He’s a kid who has lost his older brother. There is the story. Moskowitz sets up the world in which Zombie Tag takes place with amazing skill. The reader is brought into this contemporary setting that is almost like home. In it, children are playing a game created by young Wil (& his brother, Graham). Zombie Tag is the game. As soon as I started reading those first scenes, I was brought back to my childhood. I could perfectly envision ‘our’ group playing Zombie Tag during a sleepover—creeping through the dark house crying out for BRRRRAAAIIIINNNNSS and banging on closed ‘barricaded’ doors, searching for humans to feed off of. The whole time, our parents sleeping obliviously in their bedroom. It was so real, I could almost swear we did this!

There is, though, a little difference between the world we live in and the carefully constructed world in which Moskowitz chooses to put us in with this story. The world where Zombie Tag takes place has a past history of real live zombies. Around 30 years ago zombies walked the earth for a brief time. There is no real solid evidence, though, of what went on from the time they left their graves to the time they were discovered dead in another location. There’s just the empty graves and the bodies in a different location. Clearly, zombies HAD walked.

Wil and his friends have fun playing Zombie Tag, but Wil has ulterior motives. He LIVES zombies. He devours everything he can find out about zombies. He misses his brother SO much. If only…

Moskowitz puts the reader deep into the land of brothers with this story. Through Wil, we understand what it’s like to be both beaten and protected in the same day by one’s older brother. We see those soft moments of whispered words between brothers, and we see those moments of meanness that older brothers dole out just to see the younger brother squirm. And we understand that under all the crap, under the beatings and the name callings and the leave-me-alones there is this bond that can not be broken. Not by the span of years between you and not in death. Wil suffers terribly over Graham’s loss, over the loss of his protectiveness and the loss of his soothing and the loss of his its-gonna-be-okay talks. He might even suffer over the loss of the not so nice things that Graham put him through as his big brother. That’s what it means to have a brother. There’s good and bad and it’s very easy for this brother to imagine missing both, should they be suddenly taken.

Yeah, this is a tale of zombies. It’s a tale for children and teens and near-teens. But it is also one for everybody else. And it is also NOT a zombie tale. I’m not going to tell you a whole lot about what goes on in Zombie Tag. I’ll just say that Wil DOES discover a way to get his big brother back. And that he is faced with a dilemma bigger than that of suffering the loss of his big brother, once he does bring him back. With the friends he played Zombie Tag with, Wil will figure things out.

It’s hard to grow up. It’s one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. And when you make a pact with your big brother to skip this part of your life, you REALLY believe it. You believe it because, in the moment, it just seems right. You don’t want to lose those whispered conspiratorial moments with the boy you look up to. You want to be able to be comforted by that larger than life hero for forever. Because nobody can comfort him like he does. You want to run to him at night when you have a nightmare, no matter how old you are, and get under his sheets and feel safe. But Moskowitz knows this isn’t possible. She weaved a perfect Peter Pan tale with ZOMBIE TAG. It will pull on your heartstrings long after you finish the book. For me, it was a wickedly poignant look at brothers. I don’t know how Moskowitz is so wise and knowing when it comes to the relationship that two brothers have…but she is a master at it. Her mastery was witnessed in BREAK and in INVINCIBLE SUMMER and, now, more than ever, in ZOMBIE TAG.

Don’t let the MG market rating fool you. If you are 40 or 90, you’ll love this book. I’m going to call it a classic. Some may scoff. Some may say a classic can’t have cartoon boys on the cover. A classic’s cover wouldn’t depict one boy hitting another boy over the head with a spatula. But I defy you to prove me wrong. READ IT. You’ll understand where I’m coming from. The Peter Pan in me wants to laugh and cry, simultaneously. The brother in me wants to buy more copies. I have 3 brothers. None of them are dead and none of them are zombies. But imagining myself in Wil’s shoes kept me completely invested in the story. Thank GOD I’m not him. And thank Hannah Moskowitz for an incredible read, yet again!


SIZE: 5 (.5)
Expectation was blown out of the water. This should be on Young Adult shelves and Adult shelves too. It's Christmas soon. My brothers and I don't usually exchange gifts. I'm sending a print copy of ZOMBIE TAG to my older brother. I know he'll 'get' it. (-:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Split - Review

Title: Split

Author: Swati Avasthi

Release Date: March 2, 2010
Format/Page Count: Kindle Edition
Purchased: From Amazon, after reading a review. I missed this title on its release year. I was so glad to have found a review by teacher/blogger Sarah Anderson, who I follow on Twitter. Again...another title discovered through Twitter. It now creates my TBR list. Thank you, Sarah at YA LOVE BLOG!
Synopsis: (From Goodreads) Sixteen-Year-Old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist), $3.84, and a secret.He tries to move on, going for new friends, a new school, and a new job, but all his changes can’t make him forget what he left behind—his mother, who is still trapped with his dad, and his ex-girlfriend, who is keeping his secret.At least so far.Worst of all, Jace realizes that if he really wants to move forward, he may first have to do what scares him most: He may have to go back. First-time novelist Swati Avasthi has created a riveting and remarkably nuanced portrait of what happens after. After you’ve said enough, after you’ve run, after you’ve made the split—how do you begin to live again? Readers won’t be able to put this intense page-turner down.
Expectation: High. I liked the YA Love Blog review so much, I Kindled Split the second I finished reading the review. I was extremely interested to see how this novel about physical abuse in the home played out.
Market/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
"Fightology Lesson #8: Relax when the hits are coming because it hurts less."
This book is nothing short of phenomenal! As we are introduced to our narrator, Jace Witherspoon, he is travelling from Chicago to Albuquerque---in search of shelter and sanity. Jace is one of the strongest characters I have come across in quite a long time. I don't say this because he only makes great choices and he's a natural hero. I say this because he is breathtakingly honest when it comes to his flaws. His brokenness and his vulnerabilities make him a hero to readers.
Jace comes to Albuquergue to find his older brother, who fled their abusive home years before him. But Christian has made a new reality for himself. He put himself through university, has a new life and a girlfriend, and he's changed his last name to erase the past he fled. He is less than welcoming when Jace shows up at his doorstep with his face smashed in and no place to go.
Christian's girlfriend, Merriam, who is also a teacher, was a wonderful calming character in the midst of the chaos. After getting over the initial shock of Jace's presence, Merriam was the mediator between Christian and Jace. Though Jace took quite a while to warm up her, he eventually liked her 'meddling' and concern.
I could not believe the raw honesty of this book. I was compelled to read on and one is compelled to rubberneck as they drive by the scene of an accident. Jace's honesty is so brutal; not only when he's talking to others, but also when he is internally ruminating. It's fascinating to see him come to terms with the physical abuse he fled and the heavy secrets he carried away with him. He is determined to become a new person--one who looks and acts nothing like his father--yet feels somehow stuck in the role in which he senses he belongs. This is the reason he can't quite allow himself to get close to Dakota, the girl who helps him get a new job in a bookstore in Albuquerque.
With Merriam's gentle persuasions, the brothers begin to form a new kind of reality. Christian, though, is unwilling to talk about the beatings he took from his father. Christian has truly put the past behind him. In his new life, the old life just did not happen. The wall he built for himself begins to crumble, though, with Jace's arrival into his carefully crafted life.
Avasthi has woven a remarkable story of physical abuse in a family setting. Not only that, she has perfected the relationship of brothers flung into this terrible reality. The guilt, the silence, the covering up and the taking on abuse for others. Everything is just so real that it splits you down the middle. It was such an emotional rollercoaster of a read. I couldn't read it fast enough. There was so much riding in the balance. The highest stakes, for this reader, was the relationship between the brothers. Such an important relationship, that of siblings. I had to find out if Christian and Jace would make it. I needed to know.
I really don't want to give too much away. Buckle up, because this is a ride you have to take. It's a serious and believable ride. One that will let you see exactly what goes on behind the closed doors of a house ruled by the iron fist of an abusive parent/spouse. You have to read Split.

This book exceeded my expectations. The honesty of the story--the realistic portrayal--blew me away. I'd say it is a MUST read.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hunted - Review

Title: Hunted

Author: Cheryl Rainfield
Release Date: December, 2011 in U.S.A. January, 2012 in Canada
Format/Page Count: eARC
Publisher:  WestSide Books in USA/Fitzhenry & Whiteside in Canada
Purchased: eARC given to me by the author, in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: Caitlyn, a telepath, lives in a world where all paranormal talents are illegal. She is on the run from government ParaTroopers. When Caitlyn falls for Alex, a Normal, and discovers dangerous renegade Paranormals, she must choose between staying in hiding to protect herself or taking a stand to save the world.
Expectation: High. I enjoyed SCARS by Rainfield. She's a strong writer of the real issues that are facing today's teens. I jumped at the opportunity to read another Rainfield!
Market/Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian Para (-;
Review: HUNTED comes alive on page one. It engaged me throughout with intrigue and a fast-pace that made the book unputdownable. Although a dystopian, this story was so deeply embedded in a contemporary setting that it became a believable allegory for the issues that teens (we all) face in today's society - racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, name it. Rainfield put these issues into HUNTED by making it a story of bigotry in the most fascinating of ways--Caitlyn is a teen telepath. Telepaths are to be feared and loathed…they are other than normal (which is, incidentally, exactly what the ‘normal’ people in the story are called). From the onset, I was reminded of David and Sophie of my childhood favourite, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham.

As the story opens, the reader is immediately drawn to teenager Caitlyn, and her mother, who are on the run. Always on the move, they're trying to stay one step ahead of the ParaTroopers who are out to capture all paranormals…to either enslave, imprison or kill. Although Caitlyn's mom is also a Para, her powers are completely suppressed. It is up to Caitlyn to keep in touch with the network of para helpers set up to help the underground paras navigate in a world where they are neither accepted nor wanted.

DIVERSITY. This issue was tackled full on in Rainfield's story. Through Caitlyn's eyes the reader is challenged to accept and celebrate the difference that every man, woman and child brings to the table. The uniqueness in this story is that the pacing and the stakes are so encompassing that the issues don't bog down the enjoyment. It's a fine line to weave a story focusing on issues without beating the reader over the head with them. Rainfield definitely accomplishes it.

When Caitlyn and her mom stop in a new town, she is warned by her mother not to get too close to anyone. She must always live on the outskirts of the community while maintaining a convincingly ‘normal’ life inside of it. I can't imagine how hard this would be for a teenager. If they want to have any peace, though, Caitlyn must follow her mother's rules. Nobody can find out that she is a para. Once you start getting close to people, your secret walls start to rapidly deteriorate.

Enter Rachel and Alex. Two strong characters I thoroughly enjoyed. Alex, strong and capable, is a typical teenage boy. I loved that Caitlyn could read Alex's thoughts and see that he liked her. It was nice to see that vulnerable side of a boy’s feelings toward a girl. It was a nicely played addition to the story. And Rachel, who is a strong-willed likeable character, also has feelings for Caitlyn. When she realizes the feelings are not reciprocated, the two become friends. But there is an intense loyal protective aura that comes off of Rachel. The reader quickly understands that, on her watch, no harm or foul will come to Caitlyn.

Caitlyn has a past filled with loss and despair. In the para riots, she lost both her father and her brother. Her peace-loving level-headed father was murdered and her brother, Daniel, was kidnapped during the height of the riots. It is in this new town that Caitlyn discovers Daniel. This is where Rainfield tackles yet another issue—cult brainwashing. The Daniel who was kidnapped is not the Daniel she encounters in this new town. Though a para-slave of the powers that be, he is also part of an underground movement of rogue paras out to claim the world away from the Normals…at any cost.

I want to tell you everything that happens in HUNTED. I want to gush about every scene and share with you the excitement of the execution of the story…but I will stop here. Let me just say that it’s a must read ride. Get ready to cheer for Caitlyn. If you have ever felt like an outsider, you will love this book. You will understand this book. You will walk a mile in Caitlyn's shoes and you will know the adversity she lives with through the unraveling of Hunted. You will root for her, and you will want to see both the government and its potential coup d'├ętat movement fail miserably. I have one piece of advice for you---enjoy the ride!

Met expectation. Rainfield has a great way of tackling issues without being preachy. The story grips! Keep your eye out for the heroic librarian! Librarians rock, don't they!