Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Dead City (book) by James Ponti

Dead City is middle grade urban fantasy. I cataloged it for my library and thought the cover looked fun (sort of Buffy the Vampire Slayer-ish), so I checked it out.


Some might consider Molly to be a bit odd. Her mother was a forensic pathologist and, every summer for years, Molly would spend time with her at the morgue. Molly's mother, Rosemary, made sure she never saw anything nightmare-worthy, but her time at the morgue did help give her a love of science. After her mother died, Molly decided to apply to MIST, the Metropolitan Institute of Science and Technology, a science magnet school and the school Molly's mother used to go to. It's not long before Molly is recruited to be an Omega, a person charged with protecting and policing zombies. Omegas protect the zombies that just want a relatively peaceful existence and police the dangerous zombies.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. Don't get me wrong, it was a good read, but I wanted it to be a great one. It had a lot of really fantastic things going for it:

  • Molly's mom. I'd read a book starring her any day. She died well before the book began, but Molly's memories of her (getting the both of them to safety when a mugger attacked, preparing Molly for the possibility of her death after she was diagnosed with cancer, etc.) were great. It's weird, but she was actually a more vivid character than Molly's father, who was still alive.
  • Beth, Molly's older sister. Like all siblings, she and Molly sometimes butted heads, but it was clear right from the start that she loved Molly. I loved the scene in which she showed Molly how to apply make-up – their conversation with seriously sweet.
  • Natalie, Molly's friend and Omega teammate. Despite being both wealthy and pretty, she was never revealed to be a secret back-stabber or horrific snob. She was, in fact, amazingly loyal and supportive, as were all of Molly's other Omega teammates.
  • A secret code involving the Periodic Table of the Elements. And also, briefly, the Dewey Decimal System. And Little Women.
Part of my problem with the book was Molly. On the surface, she, like her mother, was pretty awesome. At the beginning of the book, she kicked zombie butt using the only thing she had on hand, a flat iron. She had completely memorized the Periodic Table, was learning fencing, and knew martial arts. Had I read this book when I was in middle school, I'd have also been impressed that she, a middle schooler (MIST included both middle school and high school students), had high schoolers for friends and that they thought she had some cool skills.

Unfortunately, although Molly's skills were pretty impressive, there were a lot of areas where she still needed work. She broke Omega rules all over the place and overestimated her own abilities. It was difficult to think of her high school-aged Omega teammates as her friends, because she rarely confided in them or sought them out for help. True, she didn't have much experience with friendship (her previous “friends” ditched her when another girl wanted to join their little group), and, true, she hadn't wanted to drag her new friends into a situation that might get them in trouble. It was still incredibly frustrating. It was at least a relief that none of this went without comment or punishment. I'm crossing my fingers that there will be evidence in the next book that she's learned from her mistakes.

Omega secrecy dictated that all the Omega teams and members were known only to the Prime-O, the top Omega member. As a result, the world felt a little limited. Every one of Molly's schoolmates might have been an Omega, or she and her three teammates might have been the only young Omegas in existence. There was no way to know. It bugged me, too, that the only “active” members seemed to be young Omegas – adult Omegas (former Omegas?) were only contacted in emergencies, and, from what I could tell, no adults ever directly took part in the training of young Omegas. Molly and her teammates received orders from one adult, the Prime-O, and aid from one adult when they asked for it, but that was it.

The book ends in a cliffhanger. Since things were starting to get really good (Molly's mistakes were leading to bad consequences, the enemies were dangerous, questions were piling up), I was...not happy. This is one of those cases where I suspect that the second book might turn out to be even better than the first – the plot twist near the end of this book was a doozy (darn that cliffhanger), and Molly showed signs of finally realizing that she needed to communicate with her friends. Here's hoping the zombies get more page-time in the next book – I'm crossing my fingers that Level 1 zombies and Omegas team up at some point.

I just checked, and the second book is out already. I'm definitely adding it to my TBR list.

My read-alikes list is not the best - I tried, but I don't have a whole lot of experience with middle grade books.

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (book) by J.K. Rowling - The Harry Potter books have fantasy elements that are more typical fantasy (gryphons, dragons, trolls) than Dead City's zombies, but otherwise there are a lot of parallels. Those who'd like another "group of friends taking part in dangerous investigations and battles" story might want to give this a try. If you haven't already.
  • So You Want to be a Wizard (book) by Diane Duane - Another middle grade book that takes place in New York, has a female main character, and has fantasy elements. Nita, a smart, bullied young girl, finds a book that she at first thinks is a joke. She and a boy named Kit team up in order to learn how to be wizards and survive an adventure.
  • Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City (book) by Kirsten Miller - I haven't read this yet, but the descriptions I've seen make me want to. I'm not sure if this is middle grade or YA. I don't think it has any fantasy elements, and it sounds like it's more of a mystery than anything, but the adventure elements might appeal to fans of Dead City.

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