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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kiss of Life by Dan Waters

Title: Kiss of Life, Book Two of the Generation Dead trilogy
Author: Dan Waters
Reviewed Format: UK Trade paperback
Release Date: July 6, 2009
Pages: 320

This review will contain spoilers. I don’t know how else I could review it without revealing information vital to the last few pages of Generation Dead.  You have been warned.

Kiss of Life is, first and foremost, a sequel.  Most importantly, it’s a sequel that segues into the third and final Generation Dead book, Passing Strange (to be released this summer).  It’s also the unfortunate victim of being 2 of 3--the fabled red-headed stepchild that doesn’t exactly bring the novelty of the first book, nor the closure of the third. It’s a tall order being book number two.  I liked it, but not nearly as much as I did Generation Dead.

Life is different for Phoebe now.  Her best friend, Margi, is spending more of her time with Colette--her formerly living friend--after the two reconciled their guilt and hurt feelings.  Her other best friend can barely talk; it’s considered a good day for Adam if he doesn’t keel over from an utter lack of coordination.  Zombies tend to have severe cases of stiff limbs stubbornly refusing to recognize synapse signals and do what the brain so eagerly wants them to do: move.  Adam, being a new differently biotic teen, wasn’t spared this experience.  Perhaps in gratitude, or perhaps in guilt, Phoebe won’t leave Adam’s side longer than she has to. Can she sort out her feelings without ruining her relationship with Adam?  Will she ever be able to forgive Tommy for not moving to save him?  And just why didn’t Pete Martinsburg go into a coma so long and deep it removed him from the narrative for at least three quarters of the story?
Like Generation Dead, Kiss of Life is told from three points of view: Phoebe, Adam, and Pete.  Stylistically, Adam’s sections are written to mirror the difficult and sluggish nature of his zombie thoughts. At first the odd syntax and repetition came off awkwardly.  I do, however, appreciate the attempt--how else are we supposed to hear Adam’s voice?  Adam is already such a sympathetic character, I just wasn’t sure how necessary it was. It’s all a bit obvious how difficult the transition is to go from living to dead to zombie.  Reading the dialogue of several zombie characters, filled with ellipses, and descriptions of prolonged movement is enough to get the point across.  I’ll be honest, though--I skimmed the punctuation and read the dialogue straight through.  Having entire chapters with repetitious and tedious inner dialogue in Kiss of Life forced me to read at the pace Adam thought.  Adam’s frustration became my frustration.  While it bothered me at first, I finished the book thinking Adam’s POV made his situation that much more heart-wrenching.

Pete doesn’t grow much as a character.  He was a troubled teen before, haunted by his past, and he’s still a trouble teen, even more rotten and cruel, but this time, he has an adult on his side.  I feel little to no sympathy for him.  I can’t even buy his excuse for all the zombie hatred.  I can only hope something (I don’t know what) happens in Passing Strange that either convinces me he’s changed or gets rid of him. I’m not surprised he has an adult around to validate his psychological issues, but am surprised at how consequential their relationship has turned.

Some revelatory connections are drawn that tease us with more shocking innuendos--just who are the men in the white vans and what’s their agenda? If you were hoping for explicit answers, they aren’t given.  What is given, though, is a glimpse into a movement intended to safeguard and make zombies fell welcome.  Phoebe and her friends are apparently isolated in Connecticut.  The open and ordinary celebration of teenagers--zombie or otherwise--at Aftermath (a 24-hour dance club and hang out joint) is the best acceptance for the kind of differences polarizing Oakvale.  It was entertaining and became the perfect stage for our protagonists to explore their relationships to each other outside of their different biotic sessions.  Everyone is branching out, taking the story beyond the confines of Oakvale High.  The larger picture begins to make a bit more sense.

I think the reason I didn’t enjoy Kiss of Life nearly as much as I did Generation Dead is simply the lack of closure on a lot of issues I’m too impatient to wait until the third book for--but I will anyway. Adam and Phoebe are in a better place, albeit I’m still cranky Adam had to be the one that turned into a zombie. I also thinks it was too convenient and easy on Phoebe and Adam to have Tommy leave. Maybe Tommy has a bigger role to play. Maybe his on-the-road Journalism sets him up to be something other than a figurehead. Waters sets up the third book without using a cliffhanger, which is nice. He gives you just enough to crave the ending, but not enough to ruin it. A more astute reader may be able to guess where the plot is going (I for one have some inklings), but it’s been and promises to be a pleasant journey toward the end.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster UK for the review copy!

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