Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dead City (Dead City #1) by James Ponti

When Molly Bigelow drops a severed human finger into a zip lock bag thinking it is really cool, I couldn't help but think of my friend from childhood who had a spleen collection in her bedroom from all the animals she dissected in biology classes from high school and college. Nothing grossed her out. Nothing grosses Molly out either. She's not afraid of much. She helped her mom who was a forensic pathologist for the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner before dying of cancer two summers ago. Now Molly works with Dr. Hildago, a colleague and friend, who took over the Medical Examiner job. When Dr. Hildago and his intern Natalie reveal that there are zombies in the city, Molly gets to join a secret zombie terminator club at her school and be trained as a zombie-hunter.

Some zombies are harmless and others are criminal. It is the nasty ones that Molly hunts along with other gifted students from her school. A member of the fencing team at school, she can chop off body parts better than most, all the while giving an ongoing matter-of-fact humorous commentary. No one knows about her duel life. For the most part she is fearless. Zombies don't faze her. Jumping into water conduits and shooting over falls is all in a days work. She'll even speak out for zombie rights. Her only fear seems to be heights. Which she'll have to face. I'm not sure if she overcomes that fear as the ending leaves the reader bridge-hanging in this fast-paced, action packed novel. The narrator's sarcastic, self-deprecating voice is what really hooked me into the story. Molly is a strong female character that is a hoot with her deadpan delivery of inner monologues.

Molly had an unusual upbringing. While other girls went to dance lessons, Molly took Martial Arts, bird watching programs, or went to the Morgue every Friday with her mom who taught her to respect death and not be scared of it. Her older sister, Beth, likes to pick on her. The author captures their complex sibling relationship by showing how outspoken and smart Molly's older sister is as she embarrasses and harasses Molly. However, when an outsider criticizes Molly, then Beth sticks up for Molly with a mother-bear-fierceness. It's only okay if Beth calls Molly weird. No one else can. My brothers were like that with me. They could trap me under the covers, call me names, and torture me, but if anyone else tried, they'd lit off on that person with surprising ferocity.

The prologue made me twitchy that a zombie was going to pop-up in different action scenes. It adds tension because I know it will eventually happen, just not when. The author weaves in historical facts about yellow-fever and mining that is well-paced with the action. He also uses those facts to connect them with the zombie powers, as well as limitations, and their emergence in society. This book reminded me of "The Haunting of Derek Stone," by Tony Abbott, but with a narrative voice that is more funny than serious. Zombie jokes are littered throughout the plot such as Molly accidentally ripping off a zombie's arm and facing her team that laughs and says, "I'd give you a hand," Grayson offered, "but it looks like you already have too many." The rest laugh and high five each other as Molly fights the zombie alone. Obviously they are not too worried about her finishing it off. If you like gross-silly action, then you'll get some good laughs. The humor buffers the violence putting some distance between it - just think of Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner from Looney Tunes cartoons. The Coyote tries to eat The Road Runner who always outwits him usually resulting in The Coyote falling off a steep cliff and leaving an indent of his body after it hits the bottom and is driven several feet into the earth. He always gets up and tries again. Kind of like a zombie.

Molly is dealing with grief over the death of her mom, as well as being a new kid at a new school. The author explores the importance of belonging to a social group in school. Molly is excited to be a part of a group at school until she disagrees with them. Molly stands up to the group's leader when it is decided to exclude another girl that wants to join them. The result is Molly is kicked out of the group and forced to eat alone at lunch every day. When she becomes a part of the zombie team, it gives her a group of people like herself that are independent and willing to accept and celebrate differences in each other. The first group she was in had a leader that wanted to use the position as one of power and control over others; whereas, the social dynamics with the zombie hunters meant trust and respect for each other. Molly doesn't have a problem being different from others, but she is lonely and does want friends. She is headstrong and doesn't always think through her actions. The result is she endangers her team. Her character arc involves dealing with the loneliness of losing her mom and finding how she fits into her changing world. She learns the importance of teamwork and working together, but not without some hard lessons. A subplot explores the prejudices people have toward others that are different. Like zombies. The author manages to make the reader sympathetic toward zombies by contrasting ones that help humans versus ones that don't. Just because they are dead, doesn't mean they don't have human qualities. A story with a strong heart beat.

4 Smileys

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