I was shopping for new books with my son recently, and he was pretty lukewarm about most of what we were seeing. I had put a few books for kids in his age range on our list, but he wasn't terribly excited about the whole thing. I had decided that we needed some new books to read together (and for him to read on his own) and he was resigned to it, but that was about it.
Naturally, his level of enthusiasm changed markedly when he saw this book. Zombies? A freshly-whacked zombie head flying toward the reader on the book's cover? Now he was excited and I was resigned. I mean, every right-thinking person loves zombies, but yet another zombie movie/show/book/game/etc? When is enough finally enough?
Still, he had his heart set on this book as soon as he saw it, so I added it to the list and resolved to look it up later to see if it was worth getting. I did look it up, and read some reviews here and elsewhere, and decided to get it. I'm glad I did.
We read the book together, taking turns, though I read the bulk of it to him. Throughout the book and in retrospect, I was very impressed by the writing and character development. When we read other books for this age group (including some of the ones on his list I was more in favor of buying, I have to admit), we often encounter characters who are fairly flat, perhaps partially to serve as a cipher for the reader, and a lot of cringeworthy narration and dialogue. Especially narration. I can't think of any specific examples at the moment, but you know what I'm talking about: the kind of goofy kid-isms that unhip middle-aged writers think that kids would say, but that kids wouldn't actually say or think. I was impressed that Bacigalupi so deftly avoided that kind of cliche pandering while still writing a book that many kids would identify with. The characters are well-developed within the narrative mode the book employs, and the author's writing is appropriate and appealing for kids in this age range without talking down to them.
For other parents or book buyers concerned that this book is just a pulpy zombie beat-em-up, let me say that while there's enough of that to keep the kids happy (eventually, anyway; early on, my son asked "When are we going to get to the zombies?"), that's not really what this book is *about*. This book is about three ordinary friends in an ordinary little town who encounter a very unusual situation and have to deal with it the best they can. That's refreshing given the rash of young adult books published in recent years that rely on the same old escapist wish-fulfillment formula (you thought you were an ordinary boy, but you're really a demigod/wizard/the Chosen One/etc.!) for a lot of their interest. This book deals with friendship, class, race, and character in a fairly obvious manner without being preachy or diving into tangents. It explores the occasional duplicity of adults and the world we expect kids to adjust to, which I think is valuable for kids this age, who are starting to become a bit more able to view the world critically.
This is a well-written and entertaining book that is much more sophisticated than the title might suggest. I'm very glad that we bought it, and my son is looking forward to rereading it.