Book Review: ‘Sick’ by Tom Leveen

SickSick by Tom Leveen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

***Review is from free uncorrected proof.***

Overall, the action is solid, which is important for a zombie novel. The way it’s paced and the humans’ behavior during these scenes make sense—there’s bits that are contrived, but in the moment of reading them, there’s not a real sense of ‘oh hah I see where that was going what an obvious setup’ or ‘hey, but wait, how come X isn’t doing Y instead?’ Also, I quite liked the ending; he’s found that balance between GRRM and JK Rowling, where not everyone has to die, but they’re not going to live with eight layers of serendipity slathered on top, either. There are some loose ends, but as far as what actually happens goes, I dig it. And I like opening endings anyway, so that helps.

The ending redeems the clunkiness of the beginning. This book starts out very slowly, with a ton of exposition about the people—Nancy Drew-level of clothing descriptions and a whole lot of gossip—and paragraphs about the racial issues and horrid teachers, horrid cliques (which does work; the narrator, Brian, is convincing as a guy who doesn’t fit in and resents those who do, not to mention the jerks who get special advantages for their sports achievements cause they’re making the school look better).

Now back to that little footnote about “racial issues.” Race is an interesting subject to explore, especially in the context of zombies (we’re all up on our literary analysis, right?), but it falls pretty flat here. For one, Brian’s household income isn’t clear, although it’s not too hard to infer some of the others’—we know that everyone, regardless of skin color, is likely lower middle class or below, because of demographics; rich districts tend to not end up with merged high schools. Socioeconomic factors, in my experience, dominate more than white/black/Hispanic at the end of the day (outside of gangs, which…there’s this weird sticky-out paragraph about gang violence, too). The way Brian constantly mentions what ethnicity people are before everything else just came off as weird to me. It works when there’s an actual point being made, as with Jaime, but by and large it’s like ‘okay, did I need to know the girl having her brains bashed out was Latina?’

In general, I’m not a huge fan of the narration. I think the other characters work—particularly in dialogue, there’s a lot of less-than-PC banter that fits perfectly, and at times defuses or adds extra tension as appropriate, so it’s not like Leveen is bad at people. But as far as Brian goes, he’s trying to have his cake and eat it, too: his internal monologue wavers wildly between protective (which does work), trying to be a BAMF but not exactly, being a weirdly nice guy given who his best friend is, and being the peacemaker.

One cool thing is the unwillingness to jump straight into the “us vs them” mentality: it takes a lot for him to not think of them as people, and the fact that they’re still technically alive helps push this. But….

Honestly, I think he would have worked better as a female: there is so much attention to clothing and appearances especially in the beginning, not to mention local gossip, and when he’s not cheering on his inappropriate best friend, he’s a pretty sensitive guy who is uncomfortable with some of the rougher stuff going on, that why not take that last step? The relationships hold up (and since properly getting into homosexuality would stack too many themes on this short book, his ex could be an ex-best friend).

This comic was too good not to include, re: last paragraph. manlyguys.com

This comic was too good not to include, re: last paragraph. manlyguys.com

The science is also flawed. Normally I shut off Ms. Science Brain while reading anything involving zombies or zombielike creatures, but there is just enough terminology here to trigger thinking about it, and that’s something we all have to live with. It does actually give a place for one of the plot points to tie in, though, as opposed to having that be ‘yet another reason for Brian to be protective.’ This book can come across as misogynistic, but considering the actions of some of the other women, I am willing to ascribe it to the narrator’s experiences and voice. He’s less than awesome at thinking PC, as he should be.

Anyway, the plot—and sparkling zombies (don’t make a ‘Twilight’ reference and then say “glittering” a lot; it sends my head to fun places)—make up for a lot of the problems I had with the narration. The beginning is a hump to get over—high activation energy, while we’re on the science train—but, if you like zombies, this review should be a sufficient catalyst for you to get past that, ideally if you’re into YA and don’t need endings that are too complete.

View all my reviews

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