Karen DeSonne has tricked a lot of people lately. She works at the local Wild Thingz! store, until recently attended Oakvale High, and even develops a passing relationship with a boy. There’s a few problems, though. One, which boy is she dating? Two, why is she dating him? And three, Karen’s been dead for about four years. With her friend Tommy Williams lobbying in Washington D.C. for fair treatment for the Differently Biotic across America, Karen’s been helping Phoebe, Adam, and other Oakvale teenagers (living or not) investigate a suspicious murder, uncover a possible conspiracy, and protect other zombie teens who have had to go into hiding due to rising anti-zombie sentiment. She has her hands full, to say the least. Then again, don’t most teenagers?
Daniel Waters has switched POV on us before. Generation Dead and Kiss of Life both have multiple character threads, but usually one is a bit more dominant than the others. Passing Strange follows that trend with one notable difference: Karen’s POV overwhelms all others, and those are few and far between. Karen’s narrative is so intensely personal, I felt intrusive at times. She’s still quite guarded, which doesn’t hinder the novel in any way. In fact, it makes it better. We already know Karen’s an odd case. Suicides never come back to life. Or, at least they didn’t before Karen. Not only does that make her unique, but so does her strange ability to smell, her faster than average speech, and her smooth body movements when compared to the jerky coordination and sluggish articulation trademark to most Differently Biotic persons. She’s become very good at passing for a living teenager. What we don’t know—and what we continue to not know until well into the book—is the reason behind Karen’s suicide.
That’s a big mystery and it’s been a looming question in my mind from the moment we first met her. She’s determined, optimistic, loving, supportive, but most important of all: Karen appears to be the least likely girl to become depressed. So what drove her to feel that taking her life was the next best available option was very important to understanding her character. That being said, I don’t completely want to spoil you, but I do think Waters handles teen depression very respectfully—better than he has other social and political issues so far. That’s not to say he’s handled the others poorly. He’s done very well overall. I just think he took special care with Karen. And with nearly an entire book dedicated to her and her past, how could he not?
There are some things that aren’t explained, for all the effort Waters put into Karen. Pete Martinsburg, for example, is one sick boy I struggled to sympathize with. I dug real deep. Real, real deep, but kept coming up with nasty things to say about him (or to him, if I ever met him). I still feel he’s more pathetic and loathsome than he is regretful. The insight Waters gave us to Pete’s psyche in Generation Dead seemed like he was tipping his hand a bit too early. Finding out the villain’s motivations right away tends to ruin the suspense or the chance that she/he might be more complicated than cardboard. What it really did, though, was open a can of worms that refused to be cleaned up. Pete probably stepped on some, smashed others, or tore a few in half with his teeth. He has so much anger and hatred that is clearly misdirected at Phoebe and her zombie friends, that I really couldn’t stand the guy. I still can’t, to be honest. His last appearance makes him out to be a frightened, lost kid who really does need guidance and is groping for the only real help he thinks he can get. Call me hard-hearted, but I still don’t like him.
Is Pete more complicated? Probably. He certainly convinced me that there is a lot going on inside that head of his. Frankly, I don’t care to peek inside any longer, but Waters made me think his journey isn’t over yet. In fact, I think another sequel is a must! Passing Strange seemed like it had a happy ending: Karen found resolution, Davidson is hauled off to jail, the zombie teens are well on their way to having their names cleared, but it isn’t all rainbows and cupcakes in Oakvale. The Hunter Foundation is still being funded by shady individuals and organizations, or at least that’s what I came to understand. Not to mention the Reverend Nathan Mathers and his sinister machinations, especially when compared to Father Fitzpatrick and how benevolent he’s been, helping the plight of Differently Biotics, is outrageous enough to make my skin crawl. And he’s the one who Pete keeps turning back to. I cannot wait to see whether Pete goes and comes back from Arizona with a roving hoard of enraged and religious zealouts claiming God on their side against the Demons, or, whether as Luke Skywalker says, “There is still good in him.”
The Generation Dead books are a lot of fun, but also very engrossing. Waters has a knack for showing humanity at its best and its worst, even if sometimes it’s more transparent than I’d like. There is still something very endearing about this series and I hope he continues to write more. If you’ve read the previous two, you need to read Passing Strange.
Release Date: July 8, 2010 in the UK; June 1, 2010 in the US
Reviewed Format: UK trade paperback provided by Simon Pulse