Last week my library did a Harry Potter movie marathon to get our patrons ready for the final film. It gave me some time to reflect on the books, the movies, and the cultural phenomenon that is Harry Potter, which all culminated in me feeling very conflicted as I drove to the midnight showing of the final movie. I almost didn’t want to go, as if in some way not seeing the final movie would mean it wasn’t all over. But I did go (with one of our children’s librarians and her husband), and I laughed and cried a lot and then after we went our separate ways, I sat in my car waiting for the traffic to thin out and then drove home along completely empty roads feeling thoughtful and sad and full of feelings I don’t have words for.
I’m certainly not a superfan–I have made no costume, have attended no cons, have written no fanfic–but I can’t deny that Harry Potter has been a part of my life, first as just a reader and viewer and now as a librarian. So, inspired by the bloggers at the Hub as they bid farewell to Harry, here are musings on my personal journey with Harry Potter and a few thoughts on the impact the series has had. (more…)
Attack of the Vampire Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales
Author: David Lubar
Publisher: Starscape (Tor)
Publication date: 24 May 2011
Review book source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary From the publisher: A boy steals a ticket to an amusement park and gets the ride of a lifetime–literally. The first day of middle school turns into a free-for-all when the gym teacher offers a “get-out-of-gym-free” card. Sick of his sister’s vampire wannabe friends, a kid decides to teach them a lesson at their next party. But the tables are turned when some surprise guests show up. […] David Lubar is back with thirty more warped and creepy tales for fans of his bestselling Weenies story collections […]
Lubar’s stories draw on horror story and urban legend staples (ghosts, creepy abandoned houses, skeletons) as well as elements from kids’ day to day lives (school, sports, video games, lame older siblings) and the truly bizarre (mimes turned vampires, ants that become what they eat–and then hunger for more, and the perils of stealing cable from a witch). These elements are blended together with a healthy helping of humor to create a collection that will alternately creep you out and leave you chuckling.
The mix of horror and humor will keep kids reading, and the length of the stories (some as short as three pages) will reward reluctant readers. The shorter stories would also make great material for book talks to tweens, so take this with you when you visit schools to promote summer reading!
With many of the stories, some of the horror is in the initial cold chill when you realize what’s happening, but a lot of it also comes from contemplating what happens to the characters after the story is over. Many of the stories also end in such a way that you could ask, “What happens next?” to get kids telling some great stories of their own.
One of the delightfully silly passages I enjoyed comes from the setup for one of the fractured fairy tales in the collection:
A while ago–however long it actually was doesn’t really matter–a poor couple lived in a shack in the woods. They had enough money for a television, but they couldn’t afford cable. So they settled for watching the few shows they could catch on broadcast. When the wife learned she was going to have a baby, she got restless.
“Look there,” she said, pointing to the high walls that surrounded the witch’s home not far from their shack. “She has satellite TV. And all we have is broadcast.”
“I’ll fix that,” her husband said. He waited until night, then took his tools and sneaked over to the satellite dish. He spliced a second cable into the line and ran it to his shack.
“Now we can watch everything,” the husband said.
“Isn’t that stealing?” the wife asked.
“We’re not hurting anyone,” the husband said.
And so they settled down on the couch and watched the wonderful abundance of available satellite programming until their daughter was born.
Such fractured fairy tales, new urban legends, and stories about strange and freaky things that no one would ever believe happened if you told them are mixed in with the traditional horror or campfire stories. Some are scary, some capture your imagination and stick with you, and some serve as cautionary tales of the dangers of avarice, revenge, and too much reality television. With all of them, I like the possibilities and twists that Lubar sees when he looks at the world–and as a bonus, a section is included at the end of the book wherein Lubar explains his inspiration for each story, which I appreciated and suspect young readers would as well.
Other little things I enjoyed about this collection: there is a Gretchen in this book! There is a story (“Gee! Ography”) that is entirely built on geography puns! And there are a handful of times when the kids in the stories do something to find information–everything from simple Internet searches to grabbing an encyclopedia because it’s closer than the computer to months of research at the library on smells culminating in the creation of an anti-stink formula. And for the most part, the kids who know how to do research well succeed and the kids who don’t get eaten or meet some other hideous fate. How’s that for library propaganda?
I think my favorite story was “Chirp” (about a boy who can briefly turn into a bird when he says “chirp”) because I didn’t see the twist ending coming at all, but the one that really stuck with me, that really horrified me, was “Family Time,” in which a kid and his family gather for a game and he finds himself completely at a loss as to what the rules are or even the correct vocabulary to learn, despite his family’s insistence that they’ve played before and he must know. To me, that sounded too much like the dementia that I fear will be my fate in old age: I’ll have no idea what’s going on and no way to find out, despite everyone telling me things are totally normal. That’s terrifying.
Lubar’s latest Weenies book is warped and creepy, yes, but also also funny. While not every story is a total slam-dunk (or a home run or whatever other sports analogy you’d like), those that fall flat only seem so because they’re surrounded by clever stories that make you wonder “what if?” or “what next?” A great collection for your tweens. 4/5.
Author: Glenn Stout
Publication date: 27 December 2010
Review book source: requested from publisher via NetGalley
Stout presents short biographies and career descriptions of four baseball pioneers: Hank Greenberg, Jackie Robinsonson, Fernando Valenzuela, and Ila Borders. He explores what drew each player to baseball, the opposition and sometimes discrimination that they faced, and the impact that their careers had on baseball and its fans.
Enter the Zombie
Author: David Lubar
Publisher: Starscape (Tor)
Publication date: 4 January 2011
Review book source: I requested an ARC from the publisher
Summary From the publisher: When Mr. Murphy finds out that evil organization RABID is using a student academic and athletic competition to recruit agents, he asks Nathan, Abigail, and Mookie to form a team and enter the contest. Things go terribly wrong when Nathan’s nemesis, Rodney the bully, forms his own team to go up against Nathan. Soon Rodney and his pals start to notice some very odd things about Nathan. Will they discover Nathan’s secret and expose his zombie identity to the entire world?
The vivid, so-gross-it’s-great puke-and-farts scenes that gave the first four books their character make fewer appearances here as Nathan is confronted with the escalating peril of his life as a zombie. The stakes have never been higher as he himself becomes a part of the mission to destroy RABID, but he’s also realizing that BUM’s interest in him is as a tool and not a person. In fact, about two thirds of the way through the book, Nathan recognizes that while they helped harden his bones, BUM–and Mr Murphy–have no intention of helping him un-zombify himself. Nathan muses to Abigail, “I don’t think it will ever be enough. […] There’ll always be more to do. I’ll be carrying out missions for them until I rot apart.” Nathan must decide if he’s willing to sacrifice himself and his life for the greater good–or if he has the right to live life as just a normal kid.
And while the gross-out bits are reduced mostly to a few choice emissions from Mookie, the real heart of the series–Nathan, Abigail, and Mookie working together to solve problems in their world and in their lives–beats strongly in this final installment. Abigail especially is in high form, tracking down a cure for Nathan, but it takes unique contributions from all three of the friends to advance in the Mind and Body competition. Abigail must draw on every ounce of her intelligence, Nathan’s got to push himself as hard as possible to do well in physical challenges without tipping anyone off to the source of his strength and endurance, and Mookie has to provide comic relief and encouragement at key points. More than in the first four books, teamwork and propping each other up in dire situations are what save our heroes.
And look! There’s an entire page wherein Abigail explains to Mookie that research without the Internet is totally possible:
“I haven’t found a single thing about the anima flower on the Internet,” Abigail said.
“That’s not good. So it isn’t real?” I was glad I hadn’t gotten my hopes up about a cure.
“I didn’t say that. Not everything is on the Internet. There are some books I can check. There are all sorts of old newspapers and magazines that aren’t on the Internet.”
“Then how can you search them?” I asked.
“They have indexes,” Abigail said.
“On the Internet?” Mookie asked.
“No, in other books,” Abigail said. “People did research before there was an Internet. And even before there were any computers at all. They looked things up. They found information. It will be fun. I’ll go to the county library after school tomorrow.”
It may be pandering (and Lubar’s mom was a school librarian), but c’mon, how can you not support a book that sneaks in some indoctrination into the “libraries are awesome” cult?
In Enter the Zombie, Lubar deftly wraps up the loose threads, persistent concerns, and primary conflicts he established through the first four books. While he faces off against RABID for a final time, Nathan’s also grappling with the responsibilities his unique abilities and involvement with BUM confer and whether or not he can find a balance between those responsibilities and his own life. After all, as much as Nathan wants to go back to a life of eating, sleeping, and not rotting apart, to abandon an exciting life of spying and destroying evil entirely would be such a disappointment.
Ending on a strong note, the Nathan Abercrombie series is a perfect mix of gross-out moments and slapstick humor, great spy work with a twist, and a good heart beneath it all. Highly recommended.
More reviews No other reviews seem to be available at the time of this writing. Keep your eye on Goodreads for reviews to come after the book is published.
David Lubar was kind enough to let me interview him aboutEnter the Zombie, the fifth and final book in the Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series. We talk about the book, the series, his writing, and how Nathan would do against a unicorn.
David on a jumbo screen at Coca Cola Park in Allentown, reading a story before a Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs baseball game
GK: Where did you get the idea for the Nathan Abercrombie series?
DL: My publisher, Kathleen Doherty, mentioned zombies to me back in November, 2007 when we were discussing series ideas. The idea intrigued me, but since then I’d be writing multiple books, I wanted to give it some thought before I plunged in. The next day, I was struck by the image of a zombie kid rolling his eye down a hall so he could spy on someone. That led me to think about all the ways a zombie kid could be a wonderful spy.
GK: Nathan’s a great protagonist, but it’s really the team of Nathan, Abigail, and Mookie that shines. How did Abigail and Mookie find their way into the story?
DL: They just showed up. I’ll often start writing, with a basic plot in mind, and see who comes to the party. I knew I’d need Abigail to set things in action, but I had no idea who she was when I put her at the pariah table in the cafeteria. Originally, I thought she’d just be a kid with a mad-scientist uncle. Then, I realized it would be so much more fun if she was the genius behind the disaster. Mookie was a gift from my imagination. It takes a special kind of kid to be best friends with a zombie. I love characters who hear not just a different drummer, but even a different chromatic scale.
THE BIG STINK, the fourth book in the Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series
GK: Who did the cover art for the series? What were your first thoughts when you saw the cover for My Rotten Life?
DL: The covers are by Adam McCauley, who also illustrated the Wayside School books. It was love at first sight. I think the cover for book four, The Big Stink, is my favorite. But all of them are great, and the decapitation depicted on book five should pique the curiosity of anyone browsing the shelves. I put a framed copy of the first cover on the wall in front of me for inspiration while I wrote the rest of the series. Tor does an amazing job with covers. I’m well aware how important that is, and how fortunate I’ve been.
GK: How did you like writing a five-book series rather than a stand-alone novel or a collection of short stories? Were there specific enjoyments or challenges in doing so?
DL: I liked being able to start subsequent books with established characters. One thing I enjoyed was that this wasn’t a formula story with five variations. It was a complete narrative arc, though each book can stand alone. I guess one of the challenges was giving the reader enough backstory in the latter books. Probably the biggest challenge was that I have a busy travel schedule. I did a lot of writing in airports and hotels Another challenge is that anyone writing a series has to live with the world as it has been created. I can’t suddenly make a sibling appear or vanish. I can’t change a character’s height or eye color. But it’s okay to paint yourself into a corner when the corner is part of a fun house.
GK: What initially made you want to write for middle grade readers and teens? And why humor writing?
DL: When I started trying to sell short fiction in the 1970s, there were three viable markets – genre magazines, women’s magazines, and kid’s magazines. I felt qualified to submit to two out of three of those. My early sales were mostly for young readers or for the SF market. As for humor, that’s how my mind works. It’s a gift. And a curse.
GK: There are some pretty awesome gross-out scenes in this series, especially the bleachers that turn into a “fountain of puke.” What is it about farts and barf that’s so hilarious?
DL: I don’t know. I took a course in college on comedy in literature, and discovered that there is nothing less enjoyable or amusing than trying to analyze humor. On the other hand, maybe I can answer the question with a single word: schadenfreude (which is German for “my psychotherapist just soiled his pants”).
GK: Has your history as a game designer and programmer shaped how you write or what you write about?
DL: I don’t think it shapes how I write (except that I need to write lots of book so I can buy lots of video games), but it does color what I write. My characters are often gamers, and some of my horror stories involve games that have gone awry. One of Nathan’s early traumas in the book occurs because of his lack of gaming skill. This sweetly reverses when his rock-steady zombie hands and unblinking concentration allow him to master a variety of games.
GK: Because of his zombification, Nathan doesn’t need to eat or sleep, so he can stay up all night playing games, reading, and thinking through life’s problems. If you no longer required sleep, what would you do all night?
DL: I would play video games, read books, and maybe slink through the back alleys of my neighborhood dressed as Batman. Or Borat.
GK: Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier recently compiled Zombies vs Unicorns, an anthology of short stories that all seek to answer the question of which creature is better. Are you on Team Zombie? How do you think Nathan would do against a unicorn?
DL: Not well.
GK: And while I’m asking silly “this vs. that” questions: ninjas or pirates?
DL: Ninjas, for sure. The ninjas would give the pirates some rum. Then the ninjas would get the pirates to chase them across the water. Ninjas can run on water. Pirates can’t (though rum makes them think they can). Glub, glub – ninjas win.
GK: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions! And if I can have just one more for the road: now that Nathan’s story has drawn to a close, what are you working on next?
DL: You’re quite welcome. I enjoyed the questions. As for the final one, I’ve started a novel for middle grade kids. I’m aiming for something that’s both dark and funny, which is not a great departure from the norm for me, but I’m hoping for wider swings than usual. I’m also writing stories for a sixth Weenies collection. (The fifth, Attack of the Vampire Weenies, comes out in May.) No idea what the title story will be, yet, though I’m pretty sure it won’t involve unicorns.
THE BIG STINK
Author: David Lubar
Publication date: 31 August 2010
Review book source: I requested an ARC from the publisher
Summary From the publisher: It’s a stinky situation when Nathan’s school, Belgosi Upper Elementary, develops a mold problem and his class is forced to share space with the first graders. Soon the eighth graders show up too, including Rodney the bully’s older and meaner brother, Ridley. Could he be the reason for the stinky, putrid, rotten smell that seems to be following Nathan around? It’s up to Nathan, Abigail, and Mookie to solve the mystery of the big stink before it pollutes the entire town.
Nathan’s missions with BUM take a bit of a backseat to what’s going on at the school and in Nathan’s personal life in this fourth installment in the Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series. He does a few sessions training in doing dead drops and seeing how guard dogs react to him, and there’s a short mission at the end, but the nefarious doings of RABID aren’t as integrated with the two main problems in Nathan’s life right now: the close quarters at school and the stink that seems to be everywhere Nathan goes.
A spoiler: that stink turns out to be Nathan himself. He discovers that the putrid scent he just can’t seem to escape is actually the rotting of his extremities. He’s had to deal with a lot of different problems with his new zombie physiology–his fragile bones that break too easily but are repaired (painfully!) with custom glue, not being able to digest food and having to feign eating around his parents, and having to hide his lack of a heartbeat from medical professionals–but his body rotting is something new and altogether more dangerous. Abigail and Dr. Cushing set about using science to try to find a cure, and even Mookie helps, delving into comic book zombie lore in search of a cure, but will this be the thing that finally does Nathan in?
In the meantime, there’s plenty of school drama–bullies, kids of all ages crammed into one school, and a sabotaged kindergarten pageant–and family drama to keep Nathan on his stinky, rotting toes. Throughout it all, Mookie and Abigail work with Nathan to solve problems and make the world a safer, happier place.
As in the first three books, this fourth of five books offers plenty of gross-out humor. Nathan’s stink is described in particular detail, and Mookie is always on hand for some sort of bodily function in the face of danger. The vomit levels were especially ramped up in this book–there’s even a double-puking-gym-teachers scene–and Nathan’s mission with BUM has him swimming through massive piles of trash. All of this delightfully gross humor is supplemented with wry observations, puns, and a touch of slapstick that will keep older elementary and younger middle school readers gagging and giggling.
More reviews I actually couldn’t find any other reviews. Maybe we’ll see more on Goodreads after the book is published.
Last week children’s book author KP Bath was sentenced to six years in jail for possessing child pornography. This brings up questions of what librarians should do with his books if they’re held by the library. Should they be removed from the collection? Should they be booktalked and suggested? Should they be featured in displays? In South Carolina where the book won the 2007-2008 Junior Book Award, should the book be stricken from the award list?
Bath was originally arrested in April 2009. At the time I was taking both a seminar on intellectual freedom and Materials for Youth, and I brought up his arrest in both classes to gauge my fellow students’ reactions. While my seminar classmates were all vociferous in their defense of the book (but not the author), I was surprised by how many of my classmates in Materials for Youth would have removed the book from their libraries’ collections, even if they hadn’t read the books themselves. I think that were KP Bath an author for adults, even more cautious librarians would be less likely to pull his works; it’s providing his books to children, the very group he was exploiting, that concerns us.
At the time I hadn’t read any of KP Bath’s books, but by the end of the semester had read both THE SECRET OF CASTLE CANT and ESCAPE FROM CASTLE CANT, the first two books in a trilogy that will now probably never see completion. I thought they were mediocre fantasy novels that started with an interesting world but fell short in their narration style and details. But aside from a few notes about how insufferable adults are (which you’ll find in many books for older children and young adults), there was nothing in the books that seemed unusual or uncomfortable, much less exploitative. So, wearing my librarian hat and separating the author from his work, I concluded that it would violate the Freedom to Read Statement were we to remove the book from our library shelves.
But this also illustrated to me the occasional separation that occurs between my professional ethics and my personal ethics. While I’m not always great at it, it’s important to me to spend my consumer dollars wisely since it’s the only vote I get in the behavior of corporations and the business world in general. And I definitely don’t want to financially support someone who exploits children–especially someone so downright skeezy as Bath. He wrote in one of his chats, “I’m glad there are molesters out there,” and “I wish a 9 yr old was doing that to me. This from a man who’s writing books for 9-year-olds.” While he was enjoying (and trading) videos and images “depicting sadistic conduct, rape, sodomy and bestiality,” he was also volunteering at the Beverly Cleary Children’s Library in Portland. He was volunteering at the local children’s library. It chills my blood to read that sentence. Knowing what I know about Bath, there’s no way I could spend my money on his books, recommend (rather than suggest) his books to any children I know, or in any way not oppose him.
But those are my personal values. My professional values demand that I treat his books as I would have before his arrest and conviction. Normally I feel like my own values and my profession’s values are a good match, but I really struggle with this case. I know that as much as we want it to be or might claim it is, our collection development isn’t objective. I want social justice to be a part of librarianship. But intellectual freedom is at the core of librarianship and is the defense for some controversial things that happen in youth librarianship. If we start making compromises, how can we continue to defend controversial books being on our shelves? If we make exceptions and remove KP Bath’s books from our collections, then how do we retain the works of other felons or of anyone–atheists, gay people–whom someone in our library’s community might think immoral?
But can I really set aside my personal values in favor of my professional ones and be okay with myself? I certainly expect it of any librarians who personally think that (for example) people in the queer community are on the path to hell–I’d still expect them to collect books by LGBTQIA authors. Is the reason I think this is different because the law and a majority of people in our society agree that pedophilia is wrong whereas (in most states at least) homosexuality isn’t a crime?
I struggled with this conflict of values last spring and now that Bath has been sentenced, I’m thinking about it again. Professionally the right thing to do is to treat his books no differently, but personally, I’m torn. Intellectual freedom is important to me, but so is supporting good in the world and opposing evil. I feel okay keeping Bath’s books in a collection and with giving them to patrons who ask for them directly. But can I, with a clean conscience, add Bath’s books to a booklist? Can I booktalk them? I think I’ll probably do so–and feel good about it at work but feel guilty about it at home.
“Ask me about the pest that’s infecting your crop, common skin diseases, how to seek help if your husband beats you or even how to stop having children, and I may have a solution,” says a confident Akhter.
This kind of transformative access to information is awesome on its own, but it’s especially great in a country like Bangladesh where 36% of people live on less than $1 a day and 90% of women give birth at home with no medical assistance. Read more at the original Guardian article.
The Westbury Book Exchange in Somerset, England is billed as the “smallest library in the world” at Offbeat Earth. An old red telephone booth was purchased for £1 and stocked with books, CDs, and DVDs. People bring books they’ve read to swap with what’s in the booth. I love this community-driven love for literacy, but it’s not really a library, is it? The books aren’t in any particular order, much less being cataloged or classified, and there’s no professional staff available to help you find what you want. But it’s gotten me thinking about what makes a library a library–and it’s cute!
There’s still time to apply for YALSA’s mentoring program if you haven’t yet. Experienced public and school librarians working with teens will be paired up with newcomers to the field for mutual learning, encouragement, and awesomeness. Applications are due by the end of this month, so if you’re interested but haven’t finished your application, be sure to do so soon.
And finally, a couple videos. As part of the promotion for GUYS READ: FUNNY BUSINESS, which comes out this September, HarperCollins put together “The Joke,” in which Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, Adam Rex, David Yoo, Paul Feig, Kate DiCamillo, Christopher Paul Curtis, Eoin Colfer, Jack Gantos, David Lubar, and Jeff Kinney–all contributors to the collection–tell a joke about a new kid in school.
I like that the Internet makes authors so much more accessible than they ever have been. There’s exciting stuff like being able to read their blogs, follow them on Twitter, or watch their video blogs, but even just things like this where you get to see what they look like personalizes them in a way that I didn’t really have growing up.
Some students and faculty members at the University of Washington’s Information School show off the braininess and sexiness of library and information science work in “Librarians do Gaga.”
Graduation photos are starting to show up on Facebook; one of my classmates’ cake included a bookcart, and fellow SLIS-Indy alumna and Oath-swearer Shellie had a cake at her graduation party that was just books books books:
Shellie's graduation cake
(I love her selection–she had me with MOCKINGJAY, but to have the whole pile topped off with the Intellectual Freedom Manual is the best!)
Cake Wrecks normally features reader-submitted photographs of cakes that have gone terribly wrong, but on Sundays, Jen features Sunday Sweets” cakes that are beautiful, clever, or well-constructed. This week she must have been getting our librarian graduation vibe: she showcased “Reading Sweets,” books modeled after or inspired by books. The featured books include the Harry Potter series, the Lord of the Rings books, and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. About a year ago, Jen had a similar post, “Reading Rocks” with lots of Seuss and other children’s books.
My husband and my mom both have iPads and it’s been fun to play with them and see the way the user interface and user experience have changed from the iPhone. While I think we’re still figuring out how libraries can use things like the Kindle and the iPad, it’s interesting to see what experiences people are coming up with for books on the iPad. Penguin shows off their vision of interactive books, but even more awesome is Alice for the iPad.
Former supermodel and talkshow host Tyra Banks will be writing a fantasy series about an academy of super-elite models known as Intoxibellas. The first book, MODELLAND, will be out in summer 2011. While the reaction at Bookshelves of Doom is disappointment? horror? exasperation? I don’t think it’s surprising. America’s Next Top Model is still going strong (it’s in cycle 14 now and has been renewed through the 16th and it’s the CW’s top show) and Tyra has been moving through different media (reality television, music, her talkshow, and now books) trying to capitalize on her fame. With such a Tyra following among teens, tweens, and young twenty-somethings, of course a publisher is going to agree to release her books. The only question is, will you buy them for your library? (Related: did you know that former supermodel and ANTM judge Paulina Porizkova wrote a book about a young girl in the modeling world, A MODEL SUMMER? It is for grownups, though.)
The Boston Public Library closed its Chinatown branch in 1956. Tired of waiting for the library system to respond to community demand for a library, Leslie and Sam Davol (of Boston Street Lab) and Amy Cheung created the Chinatown Storefront Library, a collection of donated books, computers, programming, and space that was open for three months at the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010. While it was always intended to be temporary, a second iteration will be open this fall for a projected two years. As Rebecca Miller wrote, “Perhaps most significant, the project offered real alternative insight into how to give the community a place to land and learn when full library service is out of reach.”
Way back when I was first starting this blog, I wrote about library service areas in Indiana. The State Library recently updated that data and provided a new map of those service areas. A few of the contract areas were dropped, but other previously unserved areas are now covered under contracts. While I’ll be leaving the state soon, I hope everyone at the State Library will continue to work hard to get every Hoosier access to a library.
MY ROTTEN LIFE by David Lubar (Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie #1)
DEAD GUY SPY by David Lubar (Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie #2)
GOOP SOUP by David Lubar (Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie #3)
In MY ROTTEN LIFE, Nathan Abercrombie thinks he’s having a pretty rough day: he was humiliated at lunch by the most popular girl in school, he was picked last in gym class, and then everyone made fun of him for his poor video game skills. So when Abigail, a girl in his class, tells him her uncle is working on a substance that can keep him from feeling bad, he eagerly accepts the offer to be the first test subject. But then instead of receiving a few drops of Hurt-Be-Gone, Nathan is doused in it–and soon begins to turn into a zombie. While it’s cool to no longer sleep or feel pain or need to breathe, when body parts start falling off, Nathan realizes being a zombie might not be the best life (or living death). It’s a race against time before the transformation is complete and he can no longer return to being human, and he’ll need all the help he can get from his best friend Mookie and from Abigail.
Spoiler alert: Nathan winds up staying a zombie. In DEAD GUY SPY, he’s getting used to being a zombie and learning how to hide it from his parents (pretend to shower, pretend to eat, pretend to go to the bathroom, pretend to sleep) and discovering some cool new talents that come along with his living death. His body can’t heal, though, so he needs to be careful–especially in gym class with the sadistic, success-driven Mr. Lomux in charge. But when he realizes he’s being watched, Nathan starts to worry his secret might be out. He’s approached by a secret organization called BUM (the Bureau of Useful Misadventures) that wants to recruit him as a very special spy because of his new abilities. But his contact at BUM is very secretive about the organization and things just aren’t adding up and again it’s up to Mookie, Abigail, and Nathan to get to the bottom of what’s going on.
Another spoiler alert: BUM turns out to be the good guys and Nathan starts working for them on secret missions to protect the world from sinister plots. In GOOP SOUP (released at the end of April), Nathan’s finally starting to get some spy training and to pinpoint what his zombie nature contributes to his spy abilities. For the first time since his living death, though, Nathan’s running up against some limitations, so he’s not sure he’s ready to take on RABID, a secret organization bent on sowing the seeds of chaos. To make matters worse, his mother has made a doctor’s appointment and Nathan, Abigail, and Mookie have to figure out how Nathan can fake normal human vital signs before time runs out and his spy career–and his life–are over.
When David Lubar spoke at the Genre Galaxy preconference for ALA 2009 about humor writing, he cracked us up with a reading of a passage from MY ROTTEN LIFE where Nathan has an unfortunate run-in with Mookie’s fork in the cafeteria and discovers he’s a zombie. While this series has a creative premise and good storylines, the real strength is in the humor. Characters crack jokes, Nathan makes funny observations, and there’s a lot of situational humor among the action scenes.
And Lubar knows his audience: there’s plenty of gross-out humor in these books with missing body parts, farts and burps, sewage, and splattered pig guts, but despite some truly amazing passages (the climactic scene in DEAD GUY SPY includes the single-sentence paragraph “The bleachers had turned into a fountain of puke.”), it never really crosses the line. The combination of bodily functions, quick-paced plots, and humor will be a good fit for reluctant male middle grade readers especially.
On a much more personal judgment sort of level, one of the things I really appreciated was the contributions of the secondary characters. While Mookie is mostly around for the farts and goofy comedic interjections, he does provide ideas at crucial times, and Abigail turns out to be a secret science whiz who is the driving force behind a lot of the solutions to problems that Nathan encounters. The story is about him and his zombie adventures, but his friends are indispensable to his continued survival.