Tag Archives: uni diary

Rot and Ruin – Jonathan Maberry

Published 2010 

Zombies, zombies, zombies. The literary world may be overrun, but personally this is the first young-adult book I’ve read featuring the bitey undead. I must say, I liked this take on the trope. Benny Imura was barely a toddler when the world ended. His first memory is of his now-zombie father going after his mother, while his half-brother just runs, carrying Benny away forever. He hates them both: the zombie monsters, and the coward brother. When Benny turns 15, his rations will be cut in half if he doesn’t find a job. Finally, exhausting all other options, Benny has no choice but to apprentice in the family business: zombie hunting. He loves the idea of killing zombies, but isn’t keen on doing it with his brother – both attitudes which are soon put to the test when he has to face the realities of life outside the protective walls of the town.

Maberry’s zombie-mythology is absolutely brilliant, and though the zombies never lose their inherent danger or scariness he allows the reader to pity the creatures for the humans they had once been. This is a crucial part of Benny’s growth as a character as well, and though the novel is action packed, it really is about his emotional journey and the choices he makes about the kind of person he wants to be.  To get back to the action though, there were some really dynamic scenes, with my favourite being the horse charge – from my experience you don’t often get them in zombie stories and it was just one of those small things which add to the uniqueness of the novel.

Were there some aspects of the novel I thought could have been executed better? Definitely. For instance, a clear idea of Tom’s age earlier in novel would have eased confusion over why Benny was so convinced he was a coward for not saving their mother. What flaws the novel does have are easily overlooked though, and I enjoyed the read very much. I’d certainly recommend it for anyone looking for a mixed-genre adventure.

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The Midnight Zoo – Sonya Hartnett

Published 2010

Sonya Hartnett is well regarded as one of Australia’s literary treasures, so it may come as a surprise to learn that before now I had never been able to finish one of her books. The Midnight Zoo is set in what is probably World War One, though the conflict is never specifically named, and follows two Romany brothers, Andrej and Tomas, as they with their infant sister stumble into a demolished village. Untouched by bombing, the only structure left in the town is a zoo, and the children’s story of loss and uncertainty is soon paralleled by that of the animals they come to befriend.

Much of the story is told through vivid flashbacks, recollections or dream sequences, which somehow seem to ground the work at the same time as emphasising those elements which give it the feel of a modern day fable. The boys’ separation from their parents is especially vivid amongst the backdrop of a zoo full of talking animals.

Hartnett folds the more fantastical elements of the novel into the story seamlessly. The reader doesn’t question the existence of these things, especially in a world which has already been turned upside down, although I do question the wisdom of introducing the ‘horseman of night’ when he doesn’t do anything except interrupt the narration occasionally.

This novel has an incredibly deft touch with prose. The language is smooth, and lyrical and the story simple, yet effective. Though the novel does use some vocabulary which may be tricky for more inexperienced readers, it just begs to be read aloud.

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Airman – Eoin Colfer

So during my last semester at university I decided to do a class on recreational literature for young people. One of the major assignment was to keep a reading journal of ten young adult/children’s books. They list of books had to have been published 2008 or later unless permission was granted, and I needed to have some internal theme  or guideline to what I was picking. I decided I wanted to read books with boy protagonists, as I felt I hadn’t read many in a while. I’ll be posting the small reviews in dribs and drabs, but here is the first*: ‘Airman’ by Eoin Colfer.

Eoin Colfer’s ‘Count of Monte Cristo’-like offering is as different from his famed Artemis Fowl series as chalk is to cheese. Set at the turn of the 20th century, in the middle of man’s race to flight, the novel follows young Conor Broekhart. Raised alongside the Princess of the tiny island sovereignty he lives in, Conor and his tutor are obsessed with cracking the secret to machine powered flight. This idyllic life is shattered completely when the King is murdered, and Conor framed for the crime. Sentenced to life imprisonment on the notorious island prison and diamond mine of Little Saltee, the only way Conor can survive is by dreaming of his escape, and planning his first flight.

It took me a few pages to adjust to the language in the novel, which has an authentic, almost formal feel to correspond with the time it is set.  Colfer’s writing also includes some delightfully witty turns of phrase, which provoked a smile even in some of the most dreadful and dire situations.

Our dashing hero is really put through the ringer in this story, and yet his cleverness and tenacity make the reader love him even more.  Conor is a nuanced and carefully fleshed out character, and though he doesn’t always make the right decisions you really ache for him to win, even if winning means running away. Even the criminals of the piece are well drawn, and perhaps could have gotten away with their crimes had they not been blind to their own fatal flaws.

Perhaps this book is appropriate for more experienced readers than its placement in the junior (younger children) section of the library would suggest, due to the complicated vocabulary and frankly grim prison scenes, however I could see a precocious younger reader enjoying the book as well.

I really could not be more impressed with this book if I tried, especially given it was an impulse read.

*The first as listed in my diary, but I arranged them alphabetically and now can’t remember what order I actually read the books in.

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