Title: Kiss of Life
Author: Daniel Waters
Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Speculative Fiction, Zombies
Publication Date: May 2009
Hardcover: 416 pages
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the ongoing Generation Dead series.
Why did I read this book: I loved Daniel Waters’s first book in the series, Generation Dead and upon the cliffhanger-type of ending, I knew I needed to read Kiss of Life immediately.
**As this is a review of book 2 in a series, it necessarily contains SPOILERS for book 1, Generation Dead. If you have not read the first book and do not wish to be spoiled, refrain from reading this review (and in fact, refrain from reading ANY synopses for this book as even the summary below has spoilers). YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!**
Summary: (from amazon.com)
The phenomenon that’s been sweeping the country seems to be here to stay. Not only are the teenagers who have come back from their graves still here, but newlydeads are being unearthed all the time. While scientists look for answers and politicians take their stands, the undead population of Oakville have banded together in a group they’re calling the Sons of Romero, hoping to find solidarity in segregation.
Phoebe Kendall may be alive, but she feels just as lost and alone as her dead friends. Just when she reconciled herself to having feelings for a zombie — her Homecoming date Tommy Williams — her friend Adam is murdered taking a bullet that was meant for her. Things get even more confusing when Adam comes back from the grave. Now she has romantic interest in two dead boys; one who saved her life, and one she can’t seem to live without.
At the end of Generation Dead, Adam has taken a bullet meant for Phoebe, and he has died….and come back again. Wracked with guilt, Phoebe makes it her top priority to take care of Adam, and to show him how loved he is in order for him to come back more fully, in accordance to Tommy’s theory – he believes that the difference between highly functioning zombies and those who are less recovered is because of the acceptance and even love they are shown by their families and friends. Adam struggles with his inability to speak and move, as well as with his own feelings of guilt for “trapping” Phoebe into being his constant babysitter. Adam has always loved Phoebe, though she has only ever seen him as a friend and was oblivious to his feelings for her, and now as one of the differently biotic, Adam does not want his Pheeble’s pity.
Things have changed in this small town – Pete, Adam’s killer, faces trial but finds support from a mysterious group, and at the same time someone has been framing the local zombies with malicious and dangerous crimes. The Hunter Foundation’s enrollment drops, and the high school participants begin to question its methods and motivations. The lines between the living and the undead are being drawn, and a bitter conflict awaits – and Phoebe, Adam and their friends are caught in the middle.
I was taken completely by surprise with Generation Dead. The kitschy cover put me in the mind of a silly, lighthearted ZomCom, but that impression could not be farther from the truth – Generation Dead dealt with some hefty issues, and ends in tragedy. As such, I was prepared this time for Kiss of Life; stupid cover (sorry, this cover has absolutely NOTHING to do with the story and in fact has the situation backwards – if anyone is in the coffin, it should be football player Adam) aside, I knew that these pages would tackle issues of tolerance and discrimination, the struggle for self-discovery and awareness, and of course, relationships. Even knowing this and having mentally prepared myself ahead of time, I still could not believe how well-written and thought-provoking Kiss of Life was. The issues of discrimination and acceptance that are explored on a small scale in Generation Dead are brought to even larger proportions in this second novel, with zombies as a metaphor for the very human fear of that which is different. As with the very best works in the zombie genre, as the master George Romero’s films have always done, Daniel Waters uses his “differently biotic” teens to explore social issues – hate crimes & the oppressed response; racial/sexual/sexual-orientation prejudice & discrimination; the role of the legal system and legal precedents in these situations; the questionable nature of non-profit organizations; the role of the media – especially online media – in dispersing information.
That’s not to say Kiss of Life is some dry moral parable; on the contrary, Mr. Waters manages to weave these larger social (and even political) issues seamlessly into an immensely readable, entertaining, and thought-provoking story.
While the plotting and underlying themes of Kiss of Life are impressive in their scope, the depth of Mr. Waters’s characters is what truly captivates readers – in particular, Phoebe and Adam. The novel alternates from Phoebe’s thoughts to Adam’s, and the result is incredibly moving, especially for Adam’s segments. For example, the opening chapter is from Adam’s point of view:
Through the glass watch Phoebe leave bus walk to house Phoebe green skirt green eyes skirt trailing hair flowing black and shiny in the sun. Brown leather boots beige scarf wearing colors no black Phoebe beautiful Phoebe. Halloween Phoebe in costume no costume.
Adam’s stunted inner dialogue powerfully conveys his own frustrations with his inability to move, to feel, and to be with Phoebe. Similarly, Phoebe’s feelings are confused and torn. While she does still care for Tommy, it was Adam who unquestioningly put himself in danger to save her life. But is what she feels for Adam pity or friendship or guilt, or is it love? Both of these characters grow a lot in this book as they sort out their own individual issues, and their feelings for each other. The other characters from Generation Dead play major roles here too, evolving and growing in this second novel with subsequent plot developments. Margi and Collette become inseparable, shocking after Margi’s guilt and denial in book 1. Karen, the beautiful dead girl and her role as an emerging leader of the zombies as Tommy leaves town to raise zombie awareness is also a well written character – though not without her own tragedy,. And, of course, there’s Pete – the spiteful football captain who deals with the consequences of killing Adam. I love that Pete’s motivations are hardly monotonously eeeeeevil; rather, his own backstory, conveyed in Generation Dead, explains his strong feelings very well, and are explored more fully here in Kiss of Life.
With this strong cast of characters, compelling and open ended plotlines, deeper emotional and socially conscientious themes, Kiss of Life is another winner from Daniel Waters. Let the countdown begin for the next novel in the Generation Dead series!
Notable Quotes/Parts: Is this spoilery? I don’t think so.
There was a lot they could say there, she thought, in the quiet kitchen, a lot that had gone unsaid and a lot about what had been said, but for the first time she felt that nothing needed saying. The link, the bond — call it friendship, call it telepathic — that had been broken was there again, radiating in the air between them as palpably as the aromatic steam rising from her cup.
“It is…almost…tme,” Adam said. “Can…I take…your…bag for you?”
Her negative reply was reflexive, but the bond enabled her to catch it before it was out of her mouth. Adam, who in a hundred small ways, through opening doors and driving her work and carrying bags and holding coats and letting her pick songs on the stereo, had not be able to do a single thing for her inthe past two months.
“That would be great,” she said, nudging her heavy ba from its place beside her char with the toe of her boot, “because it is pretty heavy.”
“Good…thing,” he said, “that I am…pretty..damn…powerful.”
“Good thing,” she said, and excused herself to get her coat, hat and gloves.
“Phoebe.” He touched her arm.
She turned, and when she did, he leaned forward and he kissed her.
Additional Thoughts: On the covers. The US covers are cutesy, but really have absolutely nothing to do with the story in these books. I’m assuming this is a marketing ploy (YA covers with pictures of people on the cover sell better?), but I can’t help but feel disappointed by them. In contrast, the UK covers are far more neutral but less eye-catching…
Verdict: An immensely engaging and thought-provoking book, I loved Kiss of Life and eagerly await the next book in the series.
Rating: 8 Excellent
Reading Next: Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier