All Hallow’s Read 2013 (Day 2)

Today’s suggestion is for the Hardcore Fan of true, unadulterated horror. And you know what? I’m gonna throw a wrench in your guesses. Because that’s what you’d least expect when you’re guessing what I’m… Yeah…

Anyway, I know what you’re thinking. You’re sitting there going “He’s going to throw down with Laymon. Or Ketchum. Yeah… he’s going that route. No? Then he’ll definitely pick one of the classics. Or Keene. Yeah, it’s gotta be Keene.”

Nope.

Let’s bring it down a bit in age brackets, why don’t we…

ScowlerI want you to suggest Daniel Kraus’ Scowler to the next person who professes to be all Hardcore in their love of horror and dark literature. Not only is this novel horrifying, but it’s also a literary emotional endurance challenge. Reading this novel put me through my paces, and I’m sure it will do the same to all of you. Regardless of age.

Go get you some. And hell, while you’re at it, go out an buy his previous novel, Rotters – by far the best YA horror novel I’ve ever read. Bar none.

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Zombies Don’t Cry by Rusty Fischer

Rusty Fischer and Medallion Press have offered up a new take on zombies with this wonderful piece of fiction. What, at first glance, looks like your “run of the mill” YA zombie novel, turns everything you thought about the sub-genre on it’s head, and whollops you with a very important, and impressive example of how YA should be written.

Maddy Swift is just a normal girl—a high school junior surviving class with her best friend and hoping the yummy new kid, Stamp, will ask her out. When he finally does, her whole life changes.

Sneaking out to meet Stamp at a party one rainy night, Maddy is struck by lightning. After awakening, she feels lucky to be alive. Over time, however, Maddy realizes that she’s become the thing she and everyone else fear most: the living dead.

With no Heartbeat and no breath in her lungs, Maddy must learn how to survive as a zombie. Turns out there’s a lot more to it than shuffling around 24/7 growling, “Brains”. Needing an afterlife makeover is only the beginning of her problems. As Barracuda Bay Haigh faces zombie Armageddon, Maddy must summon all of her strength to protect what matters most – just as soon as she figures out exactly what that is.

Busting out of the gate with an explosive (and hilarious) intro, Fischer sets the stage for a fun romp through the life of a young, accidently zombified, teenage girl; and leads you to believe that this is going to be something reminiscent of the scores of other YA horror novels out there. But you, the intelligent reader, can see something else in there. Behind the facade of a teenage-angst-ridden zombie story, Fischer has presented something fresher and more vivid than the decaying corpses littering the YA section of your favorite book store (or web-store *sigh*).

Fischer brings a massive amount of entertainment to this piece, not only poking fun at most teenage stereotypes, but also poking fun at the genre itself – in some places. Written from the perspective of the main female character, the author tends to lay heavy on the funny to dispell most of the serious situations, but dips into some seriously hardcore emotional territory with others. The brilliance of this situation is that he is able to make you laugh, think, and possibly even cry…all within the same sentence. To say that Fischer understands the teenage mindframe would be an understatement. He lives it in this novel, and that is what makes this book so different from the rest of the pack.

Now, in what is possibly my favorite move with this novel, Fischer whips out a whole new bag of tricks in regards to the zombies themselves. The constantly shuffling, groaning, and…well…slow moving zombies are eschewed for a more intelligent and brutal breed of walking dead. Not only are they completely sentient beings, but they’re also capable of planning and other sorts of menacing behavior. Even the manner of becoming zombified is completely different from most traditional ways. Fischer has introduced the potential for lightening to be a crucial factor in the zombification process, but hasn’t completely done away with the “zombie-by-bite” method. In fact, two different types of zombies can be created using the two different styles of…well…zombie creation, which is a much needed breath of fresh air in the sub-genre.

The whole book is written beautifully, combining so many different emotions and enough pop culture references to make any nerd’s head explode. Fischer has a tight grip on all things modern, and it really shows throughout the entire story. This novel will appeal to all ages. No exception. Hopefully Fischer has it in mind to write a follow up, as this is one story that I can really see becoming bigger and more detailed.

A great introduction to a truly unique world, Zombies Don’t Cry sets the bar high for YA horror novels.

C.

Rotters by Daniel Kraus

This is the most important, dangerous, and incredibly entertaining YA novel you will ever read. Daniel Kraus knows his stuff, and he intends to not only prove it to you, but to also set the bar for YA fiction so high that nobody will ever be able to reach it. For better or for worse, Daniel Kraus owns this part of the genre.

The general first impression, so I’ve found, of YA fiction (within the horror genre) usually falls into the “ugh…why?” category. While completely unfair, uninformed, and painfully ignorant – it’s of one of those issues that you really have to be in the midst of to completely understand.

I’ve read a lot of YA fiction. My wife and I run KinderScares, a website dedicated to horror in children’s fiction. Reading YA and all manner of things geared towards kids comes with the territory. I’m by no means an authority on the matter, but I’d say I’m well versed in the world of YA fiction. To that end, I’m willing to go on the record to say that this book transcends the YA label, and straddles the line between the younger and older reading audiences perfectly. This book defies actual grade level/age designation. Rotters is a perfect example of the point that C.S.Lewis was trying to make when he said

A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

This is a book meant for a certain age group, but can be enjoyed by everybody. This, in my opinion, is the most perfect book on the YA market today. Hands down.

Grave robbing. What kind of monster would do such a thing? It’s true that Leonardo da Vinci did it, Shakespeare wrote about it, and the resurrection men of nineteenth-century Scotland practically made it an art. But none of this matters to Joey Crouch, a sixteen-year-old straight-A student living in Chicago with his single mom. For the most part, Joey’s life is about playing the trumpet and avoiding the daily humiliation of high school.

Everything changes when Joey’s mother dies in a tragic accident and he is sent to the rural Iowa to live with the father he has never known, a strange, solitary man with unimaginable secrets. At first, Joey’s father wants nothing to do with him, but once father and son come to terms with each other, Joey’s life takes a turn both macabre and exhilarating.

Again, I want to reiterate the fact that this book is incredible. Not only for it’s high concept, but also for the delivery of the story. First person narrative is, in my opinion, only worth reading when done properly. That said, good first-person-present-tense literature is a rare find, for me at least. This, my friends, is the rare find I’m talking about.

Kraus’ characters are so vivid and compelling that the reader has absolutely no choice but to be completely enthralled while reading. The main characters are painted in a wonderfully colorful way, even for such a dark a grisly book. Their actions dance across the page within the miasma of Kraus’ landscape, really punching their way into the mind of the reader. It’s through the eyes of Joey that we see the little nuances that make small town life so different from city life and, eventually, utterly different from the lives of those who live on the fringe of everything else. His father, on the other hand, shows the opposite end of the spectrum. Harnett, Joey’s father, represents a return to the earth and an old-school mentality of getting things done. His hardness, and Joey’s inherent softness mix beautifully – creating such a brilliant character study of opposites, and exactly how much they sometimes need each other to survive.

Kraus goes more than a step beyond what readers would expect from their standard YA novel. He presents the reader with a scenario, poses a few questions, and then answers every single one in 448 pages. One can fully picture Kraus creating this tome in his literary laboratory, his sole intention focused on bringing the reader to their knees. Where one author might take a high or low road with their fiction, embracing good or evil, Kraus is all over the board. He proves, word after intimately placed word, that an author dosn’t need to stick to formulaic, safe, or comfortable notions in order to create a tale that is enjoyable. Kraus’ daring is bound to revolutionize the YA landscape.

And speaking of landscapes, where Kraus really shines is in his talent to lay out a scene so perfectly, that the reader doesn’t need to do a lick of imagining to picture exactly what he’s saying. The words are so perfectly chosen, so well laid out, that the undeniable feeling of filthiness that follows a lengthy bout of grave digging just settles over the reader’s hands. There were so many instances in this book where I had the feeling that I should shower immediately after reading. I couldn’t help but be in awe. To have such strong, vivid pictures basically fed to you during the course of the reading is such a relief, and really lets your mind run free to wander in and out of the words like a sort of home-away-from-home. When those pictures are as visceral and disturbing as some of the images that Kraus offers up, well, let’s just say that discomfort is bound to rear it’s ugly head, but won’t get in the way of the entertainment and fantastically engaging scenes within.

Like I said at the beginning of this review: this is the most important, dangerous, and entertaining YA novel you will ever read. For its daring and delivery, I’ve got to stand up and shout out loud for this book. The re-readability is massive, as I’m sure there’s more hidden from plain sight than first viewed. Kraus really aims big with this novel, and does not fail to deliver. I’d say he’s succeeded in spades, fashioning the very best YA novel I’ve ever read, and one of the best stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. End of story.

His website is here, and you can contact him on Twitter here.

Do yourself a favor: Go pick this one up and read what is truly destined to become a classic in the YA genre. I’m actually going to go out of my way to find a copy of his first novel – Monster Variations – so I can bring myself up to date with his work. If Rotters was this good, I can only imagine what an amazing story lies between those covers.

C.