by Alden Bell
Henry Holt & Company
WARNING: This review may contain some spoilers. Read only if you don't plan to read The Reapers Are The Angels, right away (or you're really forgetful).
You have been warned!! Sounds ominous, eh?
. . . you know what my gut tells me? My gut tells me that's my old friend Moses Todd who's got some business he's gonna want to finish up with me. It's a wonder how he's trackin me, but you can't put nothing past these southern boys. They just sit around waiting for somebody to kill their brother so they can get started on some vengeance. It's like a dang vocation with them.
I could write this entire review in quotes alone, simply because The Reapers Are The Angels is so beautifully written and utterly profound and even funny, at times -- strikingly literary in tone for a novel about a young teen surviving in a world of zombies, a world where the humans are as much if not more of a danger than the risen dead. But, let me tell you a little bit about it and then I'll besiege you with quotes.
Temple is fifteen years old. The world was overtaken by zombies before she was born. A world dominated by dead people who eat or turn living humans along with a smattering of survivors is all she knows. As a young child, she was trained in survival and at one point she had a young brother to watch over. But, then she was left alone. As The Reapers Are The Angels opens, Temple is living alone in a lighthouse on a small island off the coast of Florida. But, then her safe haven is breeched and she must move on.
Right from the beginning, the reader knows young Temple is no ordinary teenager. She's a survivor but she's also a loner. When she does encounter civilization, things go terribly wrong and she ends up being pursued by a man who is determined to take revenge, even though he knows the crime she committed was an act of self-defense.
The Reapers Are The Angels is a brutal tale that is absolutely startling in the beauty of its telling. It truly blew my mind. I'm pretty sure it's billed as a Young Adult novel and that bothers me because I'd say it's at least R-rated in content. And, yet, it's such an incredible read that I'd probably hand it to my 18-year-old with a warning, if he expressed interest. I'm pretty sure zombies aren't his thing. They're not what I'd call "my thing", either. But, if you can stomach the gore that goes with stinky, rotting zombies and the brutality of people who will do anything to survive, the book is truly a stunning work of craftsmanship that took my breath away. A few more quotes, before I conclude:
Beyond the pursuit of meaning and beyond good and evil too, she says. See, it's a daily chore tryin to do the right thing. Not because the right thing is hard to do--it ain't. It's just cause the right thing--well, the right thing's got a way of eluding you. You give me a compass that tells good from bad, and boy I'll be a soldier of the righteous truth. But them two things are a slippery business, and tellin them apart might as well be a blind man's guess.
Fifteen! You're too young to be wanderin the countryside. Too young by a mile.
I tried to be older, she says. But it's something that's hard to force.
And she turns her back on the lost and the dead and the trampled down, she leaves them to their airy graves, and she and the big man next to her look upward at heaven and find there not just gates and angels but other wonders too, like airplanes that go faster than sound and statues taller than any man and waterfalls taller than any statues and buildings taller than any waterfall and stories taller still that reach up and hook you by the britches on the cusp of the moon, where you can look and see the earth whole, and you can see how silly and precious a little marble it really is after all.
The night comes, and when the sun rises again it rises over a motionless desert, over streets full of rusty, broken-down automobiles, over tumbleweed towns filled with derelict buildings, signposts twisted and bent so that their arrows become nonsensical, pointing into the dirt or up into the sky, billboards whose sunny images and colorful words flap unglued in the breeze, shop windows caked with the grime of decades, bicycles with flat tires abandoned in the middle of intersections, their wheels turning slowly like impotent tin windmills, some buildings charred and burnt out, others half fallen down, multistory tenements split down the middle, standing like shoebox dioramas, pictures still hanging on the upright walls, televisions still in place on their stands teetering over the gaping edge of the floor where the rest of the living room has collapsed to the ground in great mountains of concrete and dust and girder like the abandoned toys of a giant child.
The bottom line:
Graphic, violent, brutal, honest and even humorous, at times, The Reapers Are The Angels is, quite simply, a work of art. It is deep, dude -- quite spiritual, in fact. Highly recommended, but be forewarned . . . it's a hard, hard read and it will break your heart. This book gets a family warning for violence and sex. If you're considering handing it to a young adult, I'd advise reading it, first, so you can discuss it with your teen.
In other news:
Two reviews in one day! I think I deserve some kind of reward, like a nice bath with a lavender fizzy. Hope everyone in the Midwest survived today's bizarre weather.
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