I can’t act like I’m not a little jealous of today’s YA. Back in my day (as I shake my fist), all I had to rely on were sordid tales of drug-addled teenagers gone awry or picturesque white families. Over time it got better, and then started getting much, much better, but by that point I had left the world of young adult fiction behind and moved into nigh-incomprehensible sci-fi and trashy pulp fiction.
Lately, I’ve been worming my way back into YA fiction. I realized at some point that I can’t advocate diverse books for young folks without actually reading what’s on the market—bad reader, bad! Like my “regular” reading tastes, I pretty much stick to speculative fiction written by women (largely focused on WOC) or at least featuring strong, well-rounded women lead characters.
So without further adieu, I want to introduce you all to some books I’ve been loving lately. First on my list, The Beginning Is the End: reset#1, the debut novel of Cara Davis. From here on out, I’ll refer to it as simply reset (note the lowercase). reset comes to us from the new indie publishing press on the block, Big Moon Press. Their other offering, Dia of the Dead, is also something I’ll be looking at!
Initially, I thought reset would take me out of my “reading comfort zone”. Like your favorite music period or that ONE movie, we’ve all got that zone that we run to. As I said, YA is not my forte. And the plot prominently features zzz—hang on—zzzz–I’ll get it out—zzzombies. I said it, zombies. If you’re like me, between the recent resurge of Romero, The Walking Dead, and Halloween, you might be zombie’d out. I’m personally zombie burned out (or should that be cold?), so for me to pick up a zombie novel took a gargantuan effort. Fortunately, my faith was rewarded. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a smooth journey, kind of like that famous superhero movie I just subtly referenced. There were plot elements I didn’t always like, the dialogue didn’t always grab me, and the lulls in action were quite noticeable for a book this short. I’m not always a huge fan of series when I can’t buy them all at once, so the ending had me feeling… some type of way. More on that later.
There are plenty of reasons why I would not have read reset, but in the end I’m glad I did. It turns out me & reset have a lot in common, namely our desire to twist old tropes & mess with your expectations. The setting, for example. Too many stories set in Louisiana—especially guilty with horror stories—rely too much on spoo-ooky swamps and bayous and cree-eepy inbred locals. Scratch that, that’s a lot of stories that take place below the Mason-Dixie line. That has NEVER been scary for those of us that live here, and for people outside I am confident it stopped being scary a decade ago, to the point of becoming stock. Here, Davis takes us to an urban, modern Louisiana that makes it much more scary when the virus takes its toll and the once-bustling streets are barren. Naming specific locations also helps with the atmosphere, like in a movie–I’ve never been to Louisiana, but I see what the characters see and that’s what leaves the impact. The food stop with the great fries overrun by zombies? Just tragic.
Can we get to the characters? Please let me talk about the characters. This is probably my favorite part of the novel. You’ll definitely have fun with this crew! The last protagonist I related to as much as I do Jack Sunshine was Paul D from Beloved, and… well, I don’t know what to say about that except it’s true. She’s hilarious and snarky without coming off as unrealistic. She doesn’t have all the answers–about herself or what’s going on. She’s scared out of her mind & deeply protective of her family and friends. I was truly biting my nails flipping each digital page, and oh-noooo-ing along with each set back. And can I just bask in the fact that we have queer black protags? I go around obnoxiously quoting O, and I can’t wait for more people to find out what I’m referencing and join me. Chloe is a great foil to Jack–obnoxious, but not totally unsympathetic. I found myself wanting to knock her out, but was truly shocked when bad things happened around her. Even the characters I was feeling ho-hum about at best, by the end no one felt like a hanger on or patiently waiting for death.
Davis takes time to develop her protagonists and allows them to have their own angsts and worries in the middle of a zombie outbreak. The great thing is, that doesn’t get in the way of the plot, it enhances it. I think we all know shows, books, movies and so on where we’re just waiting for the “Godzilla moment”–the point we all came to see. Think The Birds: did you care about the romance or did you just want to watch kids run in the street chased by crows? That’s what I thought. The monsters don’t suddenly jump screaming through the window, they happen gradually after you’ve had time to know the characters. You’re not patiently waiting on anyone to get killed, you’re shocked! And that makes it much more satisfying when they DO get to kick a little ass.
As I neared the final eye-bulging, chest-clutching pages, I thought to myself, is it going to revolutionize the YA-horror genre forever? Perhaps not. But is that why I’m reading it? No! I’m reading it for the pure enjoyment of characters that reflect me, and maybe that’s the revolution I personally needed. I realized something that I thought would take me out of my reading comfort zone had actually kept me there all along. That’s what I needed to see and read, and I’m willing to bet a lot of other folks feel that way. So for sly, subtle commentary through spec fic? I’ll get to that. But for a fun undead critter-busting romp (hopefully series) that surprises your expectations but still makes you feel right at home? Pick up reset#1. Grab it from Big Moon Press here.