The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Team Zombie? P'raps not (Review: Generation Dead by D. Waters)

Generation Dead
Daniel Waters
Simon and Schuster 2008

"All over the country, a strange phenomenon is occuring. Some teenagers who die aren't staying dead. Termed "living impaired" or "differently biotic," they are doing their best to fit into a society that doesn't want them. 
Fitting in is hard enough when you don't have the look or attitude, but when almost everyone else is alive and you're not, it's close to impossible. The kids at Oakdale High don't want to take classes or eat in the cafeteria next to someone who isn't breathing. And there are no laws to protect the differently biotic from the people who want them to disappear - for good.

With her pale skin and goth wardrobe, Phoebe has never run with the popular crowd. But on one can believe it when she falls for Tommy Williams, the leader of the dead kids. Not her best friend, Margi, whose fear of the differently biotic is deeply rooted in guilt over the past. And especially not her neighbor, Adam, the star of the football team. Recently, Adam has realized that his feelings for Phoebe run much deeper than just friendship. He would do anything for her; but what if protecting Tommy is the one thing that would make her happy?"

(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I picked this up in the book store as I quite liked its eye catching cover and was intrigued by the idea of a zombie love interest. I couldn't see how it could possibly work and, to be honest, I don't know if it does.

The zombies in this story are nothing like those you usually come across in contemporary fiction or movies – they are not rotting, they do not seek out brains to eat and neither do they walk with their hands outstretched in manner of deathly infants (I always think they look like they kind of want a hug...). This lot are all teenagers, are ice cold and stone like to look at, have pale, glowing eyes and have differing levels of movement and speech. Not much to fancy there, if you ask me.

Phoebe, the main protagonist, would disagree. She finds herself strangely attracted to zombie Tommy, much to the chagrin of her best friend and prospective (live) suitor, Adam. This is all well and good, but for the life of me (no pun intended) I can't figure out why she's interested in the undead (or “differently biotic”) guy. It doesn't help that she doesn't seem to know the answer to this herself. There are a couple of instances where it is alluded to that he is kind of “hot” but other than that I was left floundering as to why Phoebe feels the way that she does. Conversely, Adam's interest in Phoebe is much easier to understand, mainly because we are told a lot more about it. We know how she looks to him, how he feels when she's around and how sad and confused it makes him when she appears to pursue his undead classmate. I found myself cheering for him rather than for Tommy. Perhaps this is because the book is written by a guy – maybe Daniel Waters was better at describing Adam's feelings because he simply couldn't put himself in a female character's shoes. I honestly think that if he had made Phoebe a zombie and Adam the primary protagonist then the whole book would have worked much better.

There are definite themes of racism, segregation and fear of what is different running through Generation Dead and I thought that they were handled beautifully. The mythology of modern zombies as flesh-eating corpses is so ingrained in contemporary consciousness that I found the idea of people hanging out with a bunch of them a little off-putting. At first I saw this as a flaw in the novel, but on reflection I am left wondering if that is not entirely the point. Instead of siding with the forward thinking teens in the book, who make a real effort to befriend and understand their undead compatriots, I felt myself inclining towards those who found the phenomenon of teens rising from the grave to be a frightening and repulsive one. As I am a very tolerant person, this surprised me and made me think carefully about my own reaction. As the book went on, I found myself warming to the different zombie characters (especially Karen, who I'm looking forward to getting to know better) but it certainly took me some time to starting rooting for them. It also made me wonder why I have no problem with vampire stories, also obviously about the undead, yet struggled with zombies.

The book ends on a bit of a cliff hanger and leaves many unanswered questions – who is the mysterious corporation purportedly helping the living-impaired? Why are only American teens rising from the grave? Why are some zombies more able than others? These are questions that I am interested in getting answers to and the overarching themes of the story also leave me keen for more. But..... (and it's a big BUT) I still have issues with the whole romance between Phoebe and Tommy, in fact, I don't know if I particularly like Tommy very much at all. He seems creepy to me, and not just because he's dead. Also, the way that he spoke (and that almost all the zombie characters did) really annoyed me. I.... read lots....of this....sort....of thing. That's just me though, and I do appreciate that it lent a reality to their situation that would otherwise have been missing. I have the sequel The Kiss of Life on order from Amazon and am curious to read it, although I have to say that it will have to be better than Generation Dead if I am to be encouraged to continue with the series. That said, though, I do admire Daniel Waters for taking a well known mythology and turning it on it's head.


Carla said…
Great Review. I'm not much of a fan of zombie fiction. I think maybe it's because the whole being dead thing freaks me out a little. I dont think this story worked that well, I didnt understand Tommy as a character and I questions his motives and behaviour a lot, so much so that I didnt pick up the sequel.
Splendibird said…
Thanks. I think I am just more comfortable with your average, flesh-eating zombie. I actually found Tommy creepier than any "classic" zombie I read about. I'll let you know how I get on with book 2, but I'm not holding out much hope...
Lauren said…
I'm with you on all of this. I got really irritated by this... kind... of... thing... and I totally didn't get why Phoebe would be romantically interested in a zombie. I hadn't really thought about the off-puttingness of the zombies being the point, but now you've mentioned it I kind of think you're right. I'm sure that a lot of the prejudice in the world probably does involve people thinking that others' difference is 'icky'. Maybe we're meant to find it hard to get past.

I can't say I enjoyed book 2, but I've heard that book 3 is mainly about Karen and as I found her the most interesting character I might just give that one a go too.
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