"The Dead" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Puffin Books
Written by Charlie Higson
2010, 450 pages, Fiction
Book released on September 16th, 2010
Just over a year ago, I reviewed — and immensely enjoyed — The Enemy, Charlie Higson's first book in a trilogy aimed at young adults. When The Dead, the second book in said trilogy, arrived in my mailbox, to say I was excited to dive into it was an understatement. I was very curious to see what happened to those group of kids from the first book, and what troubles they were facing next. Alas, much to my dismay, The Dead isn't a sequel to The Enemy, but a prequel, taking place about a year before the events in The Enemy and from a perspective of a different group of kids. But that dismay quickly disappeared as I plowed into the book.
The Dead opens with style. Two boys, Jack and Ed, are separated from their friends and are fighting off the teachers that are trying to eat them in an effort to get back to their safe room. For the first couple of chapters, the two fight their way to the room they have been holed up in with other students since the outbreak — the one causing everyone over the age of 14 to go mad and hungry for flesh — began. It's not a spoiler to say that the two make it to the room, as they are key characters in the book, but the journey thrusts you into non-stop action from page one. That first journey sets the pace of The Dead, as well as its themes: action, terror and the extremes people will go to for survival, no matter what the age.
After managing to get back to their safe room where the rest of their surviving classmates, the decision is made to leave the safety of the school and head to London. The reason is simple; supplies are running out. So the kids pack what little food they have left and leave their home away from home, heading into an unknown and dangerous future.
What I liked most about The Enemy shines through here, too; the absolute brutality in which author Charlie Higson treats his characters. He's seemingly unapologetic for not only what he puts him through, but how he disposes of them. Like the first book, none of the characters in The Dead are safe. None of them. If Higson was writing throwaway characters, it wouldn't be a problem, but he takes his time developing a good chunk of the major players, and just when you think that a favorite character of yours is going to make it through to the end, Higson effectively dispatches them. I'm quite sure this will annoy some (ask someone what they felt when they saw Psycho for the first time), but it really, really works because it solidifies the danger these youths are in. They are never, ever safe.
In my review for The Enemy, I complained that when I was growing up, I don't remember any horror-themed books of its caliber directed towards young adults, and the same complaint applies here. As violent as The Dead is, it never crosses a line where it becomes questionable reading for a young teen. Certainly, I would have loved if Higson made things a little more heartless, bloody and gory, but then I wouldn't be able to give the book to my niece (who is 14) to read. Yet, even with me wanting those little mores, Higson still manages to make me feel uncomfortable.
The book works on two levels, each one different depending on if it's an adult or young adult reading. For the latter, in addition to a horror novel just for them, there is that fantasy many kids have of a world without adults. Sure, zombie-like parents are attempting to eat the main characters, ruining some of the fun, but to the reader, the flesh eating element is probably just a bonus.
For the adults reading, however, the theme is more disturbing. These characters are kids who not only might have lost their parents, but those parents that didn't die want to eat their offspring. So the children in the book have to deal with the death (or sickness) of their loved ones and they have no one older than 14 to turn to. It's both scary and sad the world these kids live in, from an adult's point of view.
Even though The Dead takes place approximately a year before The Enemy, the two are closely tied together, most noticeably at the end. I wanted to re-read The Enemy as a refresher before reading The Dead, but time was of the essence and…well, the real story is I gave it to my niece, who refuses to give it back. However, as things are wrapping up in The Dead, the last few chapters merge the two books quite nicely and, at the same time, manage to open up a Pandora's Box of questions that make you look forward to the next book in the series. That, coupled with the unanswered questions from the first book, make for some high expectations for the third, but after the first two, I have high faith in Higson.
Like in my review of The Enemy, I'm going to cheat and give it two grades. The Dead might be written for young adults, but it is a damn good book for adults, as well. If you are a parent and you and your teenager are both into horror, I highly recommend you pick up two copies. You both will dig it, and you will probably enjoy talking about it with your kid just as much as reading the book.
– For Adults
– For Young Adults