Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Dead City

Dead City
by James Ponti
Recommended Ages: 12+

Molly Bigelow is an unusual girl, not just because she has one blue eye and one green. She likes to hang out at the morgue, where her late mother used to work. She has no friends, even among the nerdy students at the elite science school she attends in New York City. She joined the Audubon Society's Junior Birder program instead of Girl Scouts. Instead of ballet, she took Jeet Kune Do. Instead of volleyball, she took up fencing. In a city full of high-rise buildings – not to mention a school on an island connected to the mainland by a cable tram – she has a paralyzing fear of heights. And by the way, she sees dead people walking around.

I know, that last surprise is on a different level. It surprises her, too, when a group of older students invite her to become part of a secret organization known as Omegas, dedicated to policing and protecting the undead who live, mostly, at or below ground level in Manhattan. In other words, zombie killers – although they only kill the undead when they have no other choice. Molly trains with them, learns the principles of fighting zombies and surviving in Dead City, and passes her final exam – trying to blend in at an undead party. Then things get gnarly.

Some of the city's undead population are up to something weird, and it seems to have something to do with a book Molly's mother left behind at the morgue when she died. Molly finds a connection between these ghoulish goings-on and a terrifying figure who once chased her and her mother up to the roof of a high-rise building, influencing Molly's fear of heights. Recognizing that she can't investigate this very personal mystery without violating all the rules of the Omegas, Molly goes rogue and ends up putting herself and her team in danger. It all comes to a head when a member of the walking dead attacks her in the locker room after a fencing tournament. And now, without anyone coming to her rescue, one very odd girl faces the worst odds of survival.

This is the first book of a trilogy by the same name. Its sequels are Blue Moon and Dark Days. Ponti is also the author of the "TOAST Mysteries," a.k.a. "Framed!" trilogy, and the "City Spies" series, which all share a similar flair for fun and the theme of exceptional kids in peril.

Darker than most of Ponti's books that I've read before, it nevertheless presents a version of zombie lore in which you can, sort of, sympathize with the undead. Some of them, anyway. The surprise is that there are options other than slaying them. Sometimes. And there are even zombies who can pass for the living. Somewhat. Maybe more emphasis should be put on the second verb in "police and protect." Maybe they have rights that should be considered. But yeah, some of them are dead in more ways than one – dead in a way that makes them super-dangerous to have around. And that's where a scary thrill joins this book's tough attitude, sense of humor, juvenile high spirits and heartwarming moments with family and friends. His ability to squeeze all those things between the covers of a rather thin book make Ponti a voice to listen for.

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