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5 / 30 books. 17% done!

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Contaminated A Uniquely Compassionate "Zombie" Tale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"They're not zombies, they're just people" (32).

When ThinPro hit the market, people went crazy for it.  So crazy that the demand for the diet drink outweighed the company's ability to produce a safe, quality product.  The result?  Questionable ingredients.  Which led to not just a public outcry, not just an FDA crackdown, not just an embarrassing public scandal, but the unthinkable:  zombies.  Maybe not the shambling, bloodthirsty nightmares slobbering their way across movie screens, but something like them.  Ordinary citizens turned violent.  Dangerous.  Became something not quite human.  

Two years after the epidemic was unleashed, the Contaminated (known as "Connies") aren't being hunted down, they're being rounded up and rehabilitated.  With shock collars keeping them controlled, the Connies can be safely reintroduced to their homes and communities.  Theoretically.  If, that is, anyone actually wants to claim their Contaminated relatives. 

Ever since her parents were taken in the first wave of Connie round-ups, Velvet Ellis has been searching for them.  When she finally finds her mother imprisoned in a kennel, the 17-year-old vows to bring her home.  She doesn't care what complications might arise, she just wants her mother back.  Even if the woman is about as interactive as a goldfish.  

Velvet's weary enough from two years of trying to keep herself and her little sister alive, but having a Connie around makes everything more complicated.  With fear of Connies still rampant, Velvet gets little support from anyone.  Still, she'll do anything to protect her mother.  Especially when the military comes sniffing around.  How far will she be forced to go in order to keep her mom safe?  Velvet has risked everything to prove that Connies aren't monsters—does she believe it enough to remove the shock collar from around her mother's neck?  Is she willing to risk all their lives by trusting a Connie?  

I've read a lot of zombie novels, enough to know just how different Contaminated by Em Garner is from its shelf-mates.  First off, it's sympathetic toward the afflicted.  Compassionate, even.  That's rare in a genre that generally glorifies violent, bloody zombie hunts.  Second, it's not really about the zombies/Connies.  At its heart, Contaminated is a gritty survival story about one girl's desperate plight to keep her family together.  That passionate struggle is what kept me reading, kept me cheering for Velvet's success, kept me thinking about the novel long after I'd finished it.  With a tense, taut plotline, sympathetic characters and a unique premise, Contaminated brings something new to the zombie genre.  It's a compelling, can't-look-away read that will appeal to anyone who digs a good survival story, zombie lover or not.  

(Readalikes:  its sequel, Mercy Mode by Em Garner)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Doll Bones: A Little Bit Creepy, A Lot Unique and Heartwarming

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Zach, Poppy and Alice are long-time friends who've been playing one continuous game of make believe almost since they met.  Using action figures and dolls, they've created an elaborate world full of pirates, mermaids, warriors and non-stop adventure.  Ruling it all is the Great Queen, represented by a creepy bone-china doll Poppy's mom keeps in a locked cabinet.  

The game has always been great fun for the trio of friends, even if it is kind of a baby thing to do.  Now that he's 12, Zach's embarrassed by his enthusiasm for the game.  He knows he should give it up, but it still makes him angry when his dad throws out all his action figures.  Confused and hurt by Zach's sudden refusal to play the game, the girls fear this may be the end of the threesome's close friendship.  

Then Poppy announces that she's been having dreams about the ghost of the girl whose crushed bones were used to make the Queen.  She says the spirit can't rest until the china doll is laid to rest in her empty grave.  Caught up in the game once more, the threesome heads out for one last adventure together.  But, as one thing after another goes wrong, the kids begin to question the real purpose behind Poppy's insistence on finishing the quest—are her dreams even real?  Or is this a last-ditch effort to get her friends to play the game?  Is Poppy even the one in control?  Or is it her mom's freaky doll who's really running the show?

It's difficult to categorize Doll Bones, Holly Black's Newbery Honor-winning middle grade novel.  To say that it's unique hardly seems sufficient.  It's much more than that.  Considering its author, I figured the book would be scary.  And it is.  A little.  But while Doll Bones has elements of both a horror novel and an adventure tale, it's more of a coming-of-age story than anything else.  The former will be what keeps readers intrigued by the tale, but it's the latter that will make it meaningful.  Anyone who's ever tottered on the edge of childhood and felt a little bit frightened by what comes next can relate to this odd, but ultimately touching story.  

(Readalikes:  I can't think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for scary images/scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
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