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This has been a great year so far for YA fantasy! First The Belles, then Children of Blood and Bone, and now Dread Nation—I’m so excited that these books exist AND that they’re getting all the buzz. I love them even more because they have higher ambitions than creating an immersive world of beauty, magic, or zombies (although they do that too!); they’re telling fantasy stories that illuminate realities about our world as it is right now. People using art to magnify issues that matter—it makes me want to hire a marching band and parade through the streets in excitement and solidarity.

Dread Nation has a premise that begs to be adapted to the screen: it’s an alternate history in which the Civil War ends because of a zombie plague. Slavery is technically over, but black girls are instead conscripted into boarding schools where they are groomed to become Attendants—that is, personal bodyguards for wealthy white women. Salty-tongued main character Jane is a good fighter but struggles with the more refined parts of her training. However, the new society is so rife with corruption, her schooling may become moot in the face of the advancing horde. There are bigger zombies to fry.

There’s a scene change roughly halfway through that basically turns the book into a Western. No spoilers, so I won’t go into detail, but for me that’s when the magic happened. I can’t resist a good Western, and this is an example of a YA author executing the form really well. It reminded me of Vengeance Road, which I also recommend. And I have to say, as someone who is more squeamish the older she gets, I really appreciate how light a touch Ireland uses in writing the fight scenes. Yes, some zombies get decapitated and some people’s faces get eaten, but she doesn’t go into the gleeful detail that some horror writers like to employ.


Guest post by Adam.

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While consuming copious amounts of Halloween topical literature recently, Taryn happened upon this book. On the surface, it checks all the boxes for her, primarily that big one next to “Colson Whitehead wrote it.” Unfortunately, it checks a similarly weighty box on her oh-no-no list, namely “Is about zombies.” So what’s a girl to do?

Convince her charmingly hapless husband to read it and report back on whether or not she “can handle it.”

Zone One follows main character Mark Spitz as he works with a team of “sweepers” to finish clearing out the first zone of Manhattan that the newly reformed American government is retaking. The USMC has already rolled in and handled the bulk of zombiecide and all that’s left is the tedious task of clearing every single building and structure floor by floor.

For a zombie novel, the main character does a surprising amount of self reflection, but once I got used to the atypical pace, I really enjoyed it. Something about it reminded me of the post-apocalyptic movie Book of Eli. Sure, Denzel kicks some major ass, but he also has dialogue and a measure of thoughtfulness and introspection.

I’m just saying, don’t be surprised when mid-zombie attack, you all of a sudden start getting random backstory. Don’t worry. He comes back to the action eventually.

Mark Spitz (not his real name, but a nickname you eventually learn the story behind) is an odd main character. If forced to pick a single word to describe him, I would have to go with unobjectionable. Even weirder, the main character obviously embraces and proclaims his mediocrity. I have little doubt that he would wholeheartedly agree with my moniker of unobjectionable-ness. I cannot properly explain why I liked him so much. My overinflated sense of self (I really am amazing) guarantees that it’s not a kindred spirit kind of thing. Whatever the reason, I can honestly say that I genuinely liked the guy.

So back to the million dollar question. Can she handle it? I’m happy to report that the awesomeness of Colson Whitehead’s writing is well worth the slightly gory price of admission. Five stars!

Book Nerd Note from Taryn: Colson Whitehead really is awesome. He's also having a bit of year, with his latest novel The Underground Railroad being chosen for Oprah's Book Club and winning a National Book Award. His NBA acceptance speech is definitely worth a watch (I've watched it several times, and it gives me a lot of feelings. BMF!)