The Infects by Sean Beaudoin

Nick is going nowhere fast. He works at the Rebozzo chicken plant, the same place that fired his dad years ago (who never managed to find another job). He keeps food on the table for his sister, and somehow manages not to flunk out of high school. He pines for the beautiful Petal, but never quite manages to get up the courage to really talk to her. He seems to get a break when they promote him, but it almost feels like a punishment at times. One day, the stress and exhaustion just get to him, and all hell breaks loose. He cuts himself, chickens are going thing he knows, he's on a bus to some juvvy camp for mini-convicts. No more Nick, now he's Nero.

All the boys on his bus have some handle to go by. He just wants to keep his head down and get through this. It isn't until he sees the girls' bus (with Petal on it) that he starts to hope. Split up again, they counselors pile on one more indignity: they withhold the chicken they promised on the way up. Not all the campers are as compliant as they should be, and the next morning, several are no longer eating chicken. They're eating each other. Both counselors, and anyone who ate the chicken seemingly, have gone totally zombie apocalypse.

The boys decide they need to warn the girls, and make their way to the other camp, suffering casualties along the way. The weirdest part for Nero? No, not the's probably the voice that sounds like Dwane "The Rock" Johnson giving him advice (or at least doing a running commentary in his head). He knows he has to get to Petal, and back to his family. Eventually the remaining boys end up in some kind of ski lodge where the remaining girls have already set up fort. Good news: the girls let them in; bad news: Petal's been bitten. She hasn't turned, but they have her tied up in the basement.

Nero isn't sure where to go from here. He's seen enough zombie movies to know that the contaminated chicken must have infected half the town (if not more) by now, and that doesn't bode well for their chances of survival. "The Rock" keeps giving him snarky advice, some of which is annoyingly helpful. Can he somehow get Petal and the rest of the juvenile delinquents to safety? Does that even exist anymore?

I love books that transcend their genre, and have something bigger to say. This is so smart and funny, with actual social commentary on our obsession with fast food, and maybe even our reliance on mass produced goods, but in a way that doesn't sound preachy or condescending. It's thought provoking, action-packed, awkward in the right places, and relatable (if a zombie apocalypse based on infected chicken can be). If this doesn't convince you, at the end of the book, Beaudoin has a zombie nickname list including: "Braindrain," "Them Thangs," "Baked Ziti and Flesh Sauce" get the idea. Hilarious.
"ZOMBRULE #2: After a fight, avoid turning away from a fallen zombie to hug your girlfriend with relief. Under no circumstances fail to tag that zombie again, or while you have your PTSD face buried in her shampoo-smelling hair, said zombie will stand up offscreen, give the audience time to scream, and then take a big ol' hunk of rob eye out of your back," (Beaudoin pg. 124, 2012).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
You Killed Wesley Payne by Sean Beaudoin
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
Undead by Kristy McKay

Beaudoin, Sean. (2012). The Infects. Somerville, Mass: Candlewick Press

Reality Boy by A.S. King

Gerald has grown up in the public eye. One might even say he's the boy from TV...except he's not. "Reality" TV is anything but. As a small child, his mother wrote in to one of those nanny shows. You know the ones, where some lady comes in and acts like she can fix all the problems in your family within a year or less. What they never showed on Network Nanny, and what Gerald's mom never wanted to admit, was that his older sister Tasha was the real problem. 

Tasha was abusing Gerald, his older sister Lisi, and his mom. Hitting them, yelling, manipulating to get her way. She probably could have used some help from Nanny, but instead, it was all about Gerald, the Crapper. To try and draw attention to his sister's behavior, to try and draw any attention from his mother and father, he did what any 5 year-old would do: he acted out. Maybe he shouldn't have started pooping on things (ok, he definitely shouldn't have started doing that...), but it got results. 

The backlash of course was that he was known as The Crapper for the rest of his childhood into adolescence. His anger management problems followed as well, until he snapped and took things too far. Since then, he has tried to keep to himself, retreating to Gersday (his perfect daydream) whenever he can. Living in a house with Tasha is intolerable. His mother continues to ignore her behavior, making excuses for everything. His dad had retreated into himself, and his sister Lisi - his one source of comfort - has abandoned him for college in Scotland. He doesn't really blame her, he can't wait to get as far away from here as he can, but she could at least call. 

Then he meets Register Girl #1. He works at Register #7, always, no exceptions. He's in SPED classes, even if he doesn't really need to be, his anger management coach always told him to stay away from girls because they are more trouble than they're worth..but she might be worth it. They start to get to know each other, they set some ground rules. (No saying retarded, no talking about reality TV, no touching for two months) Turns out she's in therapy too. Slowly they begin to build a friendship, and more, that allows them to challenge their abusers, and ask for more.

This is an interesting commentary on reality TV and what we as a society are doing to our perceptions, as well as to the participants. We are being fed an ideal that a few days can rectify a lifetime of mistakes, and that behaviors can be modified quickly. Reality is very different, and as shown in the book, the scars inflicted by his sister and mother -compounded by the television show- will probably follow him into adulthood. What is the price of entertainment? How far are we willing to go? King is one of my favorite authors writing today. She seamlessly blends magical realism into her novels without making it too fantastical. Highly recommended.
"'What are your demands, Reality Boy?'
My reflection doesn't have any demands.
All demands have been removed from my refelction. Roger, my professional demand-remover, has done a spotless job.
Should is a dirty word. No one should do anything for you. You deserve nothing more than what you earn. Reality boy is still angry, though. Because Reality Boy knows he deserves all kinds of shit he never got.
The longer I stare at myself in the mirror, the more I want to punch myself. Right in the face. I want to break my nose. Split my lip. Bite a hole in my cheek. I want to beat some sense into me. Instead, I punch the toilet stall door. It swings in and slams into the toilet-paper holder. My hand is numb. But not as numb as the rest of me," (King pg. 152, 2013).
*Library Link*
King, A.S. (2013). Reality Boy: A Novel. New York : Little, Brown and Company.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Marcus aka "W1n5t0n" may be only 17, but he is far from stupid. When he hears that his favorite ARG (alternate reality game) is about to release a new clue, he knows he'll do whatever it takes to get out of class. Once upon a time, that may have meant slipping past a security guard. In today's age of modern technology, it involves fooling the gait recognition software (putting rocks in your shoes, check), deactivating RFID signals that may be emitting from your friend's library books (teacher's lounge microwave, check), distracting your arch enemy (flooding his phone with enough data to nearly brick it, check), and they were out! Harajuku Fun Madness was the best ARG ever made, and the grand prize was a trip to Japan.

With Darryl, Van, and Jolu in tow, the team made their way to the Tenderloin to find their clue. Everything was going great...until the earth moved. The sound was deafening, and massive clouds of smoke were rising from the Bay. There had been an explosion! Sirens were going off. Tinned voices repeated, "Report to shelters immediately." Where were shelters? The BART! The street was in chaos. As they made their way to the transit station, someone in the crowd stabbed Darryl! Is this really happening? After trying to flag someone down for help, a military-type vehicle stopped, but not to help. They were thrown on the ground and tied up, heads covered...and all piled into the back of a semi. Along with a bunch of other schmucks. Their captors didn't look like Al Qaeda, they looked like they were from Nebraska. Some of them even wore U.S. military uniforms. What was going on?

After only a few days of this treatment they are released, all but Darryl, with the caveat that they keep their mouths shut about what went on. Marcus is so afraid of being locked up again, he convinces Van and Jolu to stay quiet as well. That doesn't mean he wants to roll over and die. At home, he realizes his laptop has been compromised, and that is what inspires him to start using Paranoid XBox. It's a way for he and his friends to get online without their data being monitored. He starts sharing discs, and pretty soon, Xnet's gone viral. His new handle M1k3y has become the face of the teenage tech revolution.

After the bombing, Homeland Security puts cameras in schools, starts profiling people's public transit passes for "aberrant behavior," monitoring FasTrak toll tags to track citizen locations, all in the name of safety. People are getting stopped for taking the train to a place out of their routine "too often," and being accused of an alleged crime. The police and a lot of older generations are touting this as crime prevention. M1k3y and the XNetters just see this as a blatant violation of their civil rights. Haven't the terrorists won if we are all living in fear of each other?

Soon, the XNet is a target. Teenagers are a target. How far will it go? Even the media seems involved in the coverup of the abuses of Homeland Security. Can a few teenagers really make a difference? Marcus isn't even sure who to trust anymore. He's lost friends over this already. He isn't the leader of an army, he's just a kid...right?

I was inspired to finally write this blog by San Francisco. The city chose this title as their citywide One City One Book title for this past fall. As you can tell from the synopsis, it's a pretty subversive book. It challenges the reader to take a closer look at our government and hold them accountable. It asks hard questions about how we are handling the new threats our society faces. It asks our children to stand up to us because we may be too set in our ways. We may have forgotten that many people gave up their safety (and their lives) to secure our freedom. If the city in which this novel was set can choose this as their One City One Book, I have hope. For anyone interested, you can obtain a free copy (from the author) in ebook format just by clicking on the cover above.
"'The Yippies loved to say, 'Never trust anyone over thirty.' They meant that people who were born before a certain time, when America had been fighting enemies like the Nazis, could never understand what it meant to love your country enough to refuse to fight the Vietnamese. They thought that by the time you hit thirty, your attitudes would be frozen and you couldn't ever understand why the kids of the day were taking to the streets, dropping out, freaking out.  
'San Francisco was ground zero for this. Revolutionary armies were founded here. Some of them blew up buildings or robbed banks for their cause. A lot of those kids grew up to be more or less normal, while others ended up in jail. Some of the university dropouts did amazing things - for example, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who founded Apple Computers and invented the PC," (Doctorow pg. 177-78, 2008).
*Library Link*

 If you liked this, check out:
Homeland by Cory Doctorow (Little Brother, Book 2)
1984 by George Orwell
Feed by M.T. Anderson

Doctorow, Cory. (2008). Little Brother. New York: Tom Doherty Associates.

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Cycle, Book 2)

*Spoiler Alert!! This is the second book in a series!*

Having woken the ley lines surrounding Cabeswater, Adam, Ronan, Gansey, and Blue are one step closer to solving the mystery of Glendower. They all want to find the dead king for different reasons. Blue's prophecy, that her first kiss will signal the death of her true love, hangs over her head. Could Glendower be the answer to changing her fate? Adam's connection with the king, and his desperate desire to make something of himself, to be more than his father, drives him on an almost reckless path. Gansey's obsession has brought them all on this journey, and his relentless pursuit has held them together thus far. It's a deep magic that holds more for him than his privileged upbringing could ever promise. Ronan has been lost since the death of his father, but he seems to have developed a new talent: he can take things from his dreams. Is this something passed down from his father? Is this the ley lines? He isn't sure, but he knows this is another secret he needs to keep.

The Gray Man arrives in town, looking for the Greywaren. He isn't the only one looking, but suddenly he has competition. Something has alerted the others to the location, and the hunt is suddenly more relevant, more urgent, and that more dangerous to the raven boys. Declan, Ronan's brother, has a run in with the Gray Man, and tries to warn Ronan, but Ronan's never been one to listen.

None of it seems to matter anymore when on their return to Cabeswater, it's gone. Gone away.

It's then that Ronan's dreams begin to invade their reality with increasing frequency. That's when they decide to go against his father's dying wish, and visit the Barns, Ronan's childhood home. What they find there answers a lot of Ronan's questions, but it raises just as many more.

Going to Fox Way, and Blue's family for advice, the boys get a crazy answer to a crazy problem. Could Cabeswater be a dream place? Could that be the connection?

The Gray Man also makes a stop at Fox Way, and begins a strange sort of relationship with Blue's mother. As he circles closer and closer to the raven boys, questions he hasn't had to ask himself before - especially in his line of work - are being asked. Is there another path for him? What would it mean to give over the Graywaren? Not just for him, but for the world?
"There are three kinds of secrets. One is the sort everyone knows about, the sort you need at least two people for. One to keep it. One to never know. The second is a harder kind of secret: one you keep from yourself. Every day, thousands of confessions are kept from their would-be confessors, none of these people knowing that their never-admitted secrets all boil down to the same three words: I am afraid.And then there is the third kind of secret, the most hidden kind. A secret no one knows about. Perhaps it was known once, but was taken to the grave. Or maybe it is a useless mystery, arcane and lonely, unfound because no one ever looked for it.
Sometimes, some rare times, a secret stays undiscovered because it is something too big for the mind to hold. It is too strange, too vast, too terrifying to contemplate," (Stiefvater pg. 1, 2013).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (Raven Cycle, Book 1)
Raven Cycle Book 3 by Maggie Stiefvater (expected publication 2014)
The Diviners by Libba Bray (Diviners, Book 1)
The Death Catchers by Jennifer Anne Kogler

Stiefvater, Maggie. (2013). The Dream Thieves. New York, NY : Scholastic Press.