The Dead-Tossed Waves had sat on my shelf (a.k.a. the floor by the uncomfortable chair) for weeks before I picked it up and decided--with a huff and a sigh--to finally dive in and get it over with. However, to my delight, something happened about 20 pages in, and after that, I couldn't stop. I didn't want to stop.
How is it that a first book can suck so much, but its sequel rule the zombie lit world? I have no idea, but that's what happened.
- Characters. I like every single character in here, except for the ones I hate, but I'm supposed to hate them, so I like them. Huh? Each character is unique from the others. Each has something to donate to the conflict and resolution. Each has a stake in the outcome of situations. Imagine that--a cast of characters who actually work together. It's like a Robert Altman film.
- Emotions. We see them and feel them without being told they exist. Boys cry in this one. I like that. Desire is palpable. My favorite: Gabry wants to kiss Catcher so badly (but can't--read why), so as he's tracing her forbidden lips with his thumb, she slips her tongue out to taste him. Excellent! The emptiness of loss is realistic in the chaotic world of survival.
- Shock and suspense. Stephenie Meyer could use a shot of sense when it comes to this. She should read this book and weep, realizing that a story is always better when there is massive conflict--conflict piled upon conflict--and characters have a reason to experience a range of emotions. I was scared as I read this--nervous about what the author would create next. Who would get zombified? Who would get arrested? Who would die? This story throws it in your face right away, giving you a real reason to read on. Something has to keep me reading beyond the special pre-teen loins tickle that I get (no, I don't!) when lips brush along collarbones and all that. This story absolutely delivers.
- Balance. Part love, part confusion, part horror, part survival, part social commentary, part critique of human nature--and a lot more. Seriously. But nothing takes over. It's all seamlessly soldered. It's like having one of those really weird dishes at a fancy-shmancy restaurant. Who the hell knew that lotus root, fish eyes, and pancreas juice would taste so lovely?
- Mood. The desperation and desolation of this post-apocalyptic world is tangible. The constant moaning of the zombies (reminds me of my college days in San Francisco), the ruined villages and cities, the decay of American icons...brilliant.
- Uncategorized awesomeness. Pet zombies with their lower jaws hacked off by white-robe-wearing religious weirdos. Almost rape turning into actual murder. No tidy answers to anything. An ending that doesn't guarantee happiness. (All hail non-Hollywood endings, a la Seven!).
- Frustrating female. Again! Another girl who blames herself for every single tiny meaningless thing that's ever gone wrong in the history of the universe. If she'd only blinked twice instead of once, the do do bird might not have gone extinct! Yes, it's that bad. My mother argues that parapseudos are indicative of teen girls' fantasy lives. If that's the case, I want to shake every teen girl and scream, "DON'T BELIEVE THE BULLSHIT! EVE DIDN'T DESTROY THE WORLD! SHE THOUGHT INDEPENDENTLY! SHE TOOK WHAT SHE WANTED!" Ugh. Why do all these authors create girl protags motivated by guilt? Are they all Catholic?
- The Envelope. The author stuffs it, licks the glue, puts the stamp on, addresses it, but doesn't push it. (Even I cringed at that one...) A little more aggressive controversy would be fantastic. Don't just have a character curl her hands into white-knuckled fists. Make her use them! Punch that jerk in the throat! Don't just have lips brushing lips with strange moans emitting from the backs of throats. Have some wandering fingers!
Here's something weird: I want to read this one again. Right now. Instead, I'm gonna order the third work in the series and see where it fits on the spectrum. And if it's even 1/2 as good as Dead-Tossed, then I'm gonna reread Hands and Teeth to see if I was missing something. Otherwise, it's like saying Nightmare on Elm Street 2 & 3 were better than the first--which we all know is the untruest of all untruths.