Our YA contemporary Thursday pick is Kirsty McKay's Unfed (Undead #2).
This book is really a hybrid contemporary/horror, but there are elements of it that are so very true to contemporary books - think The Breakfast Club with zombies - I thought I could get away with reviewing it today. *wink*
Hardcover, 288 pages
Expected publication: August 27th 2013 by Chicken House (first published August 2nd 2012)
Format read: E-ARC via NetGalley
I'll be honest - I was kind of dubious at first, especially when my friend told me that the book was a zombie novel. I had witnessed a huge slew of zombie novels come out after the 2006 publication of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, none of which could quite match up to Brook's original brilliance.
However, my friend insisted, so I dutifully picked up a copy of the book, Undead, at a random train stop in the middle of England. I started reading at the beginning of my journey, and became so intrigued by the book, I almost missed my stop. Undead was fresh, innovative, and wholly unlike any other zombie book I'd ever read.
So when I heard that the sequel was coming out this year, I immediately started stalking NetGalley. And the second I saw it go up, I requested it. Luckily for me, Scholastic kindly obliged!
When the school bus that they were riding crashes, Bobby wakes up in a hospital outside of Edinburgh weeks later, with no memory of how she got there. The only clues that she has now are in the shape of a phone with coded numbers, an extremely grumpy Alice, Peter and a mysterious newcomer named Russ.
Left with instructions to track down an MIA Smitty and to reunite with her mother, Bobby has to fight her way out of situations she never expected, with allies she thought she'd never trust. Luckily, she manages to keep her trademark sense of humor and wry observations - because the end of the world has to have SOME benefits, right?
Things that worked:
It's been about a month since the events of the first book, and Bobby is just as snarky and witty as ever. However, she's also developed some much-needed wisdom and insight into her current situation.
When Bobby wakes up in the hospital, unsure of how she got there and uncertain of what the state of the world is like outside, she doesn't panic. Instead, she stays (relatively) calm, uses the lessons that she's learned from the last book, and makes a smart, albeit extremely terrifying, escape with Alice and her friends.
Even after her escape, Bobby continues to show that same combination of wisdom and snark. She's both pragmatic as she accepts the reality of the situation on the outside - hoards of zombies; being constantly stalked by military officials; but she's also not afraid to just sit down and think about how just much the situation sucks.
McKay has done a wonderful, consistent job of showing how resilient teenagers like Bobby can be when dealing with complex, life-altering situations. Even when they hate whatever it is they're going through, they can still pick themselves up and keep going.
As for the secondary characters, they've all developed wonderfully as well.
Even though this is clearly very much Bobby's story, McKay shows in various ways, how characters like Alice and Smitty (or in my mind, the British version of The Breakfast Club) are reacting now that they're no longer the innocent, clueless teens of the first book. Alice's bark is still worse than her bite, and she's more willing to let her guard down around the other survivors. Smitty's more willing to be straightforward with Bobby... you get the idea.
For a book with fairly simple objectives in mind: (Find Smitty, check!; Reunite with Bobby's mom, check!), McKay does a pretty darned good job of making these objectives seem like the Biggest!Deal!Ever.
She details Bobby & Co.'s attempts to complete these objectives, with the same type of energy that I would normally expect in a mysterious thriller. Along the way, she drops obstacles, includes unexpected discoveries, and scatters red herrings that kept the anticipation and the excitement of the story going. With each new discovery and obstacle, I found myself cheering Bobby on more, and wanting her to get to the bottom of the situation more quickly.
The only place where the plotting slightly faltered was near the end, but more on that later.
McKay is a genius at capturing the teenage voice. The voice that she's created for Bobby is smart and funny, but also has strong moments of depth. Through the use of flashbacks, we're able to see how and why Bobby has the type of personality that she does, and why she's reacting to everything now, in the way that she is.
She's also done a fantastic job of building the world around Bobby, and showing how and why they're in this situation in the first place.
On a related note...
* The setting
I loved the fact that we actually get to see the zombies running amok in a major British city this time around, because I think it gives the reader a stark visual image of the type of damage that the zombies are causing.
McKay does a fantastic job of utilizing the city to show both the horrors of the program, and giving her characters a scary, dangerous playground to get lost in.
Things that didn't work:
I know it's basically impossible to keep the momentum going in a story like this, but I did still feel slightly let down by the ending.
It's not that there was anything wrong with the ending, per se. It was well-written, it tied loose ends together and it set things up nicely for the final book in the trilogy. However, after everything that Bobby and Co. went through for the duration of the book, the events of the ending just felt too... predictable.
The character that I thought would be bad, turned out to be bad. The one person whom I figured would play a larger part than all of this than anticipated, ended up playing a larger part than anticipated, etc.
Again, there's nothing necessarily wrong with everything playing out exactly how I thought it would play out. I was just disappointed, because McKay had gone above and beyond to make Undead and Unfed stand out, it seemed odd that she would run out of steam at the end like this.
Let me put it another way: the book clips along at a brilliant pace, and then McKay suddenly seemed to remember that she had another book to write. So she went "Oh!" and put the brakes down on the action.
I especially recommend it for fans of Warm Bodies, and Shaun of the Dead, or general zombie fans who don't mind some riffing on the genre.
Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC of Unfed from Scholastic via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!
About the author:
Visit her website at www.kirstymckay.com and follow her on Twitter @kirkybean.