Dead Set by Richard Kadrey is a young adult novel that threads the themes of growing up, identity, grief, and coping with hardship that impacts all adolescents within a horror motif. The end product is an entertaining, suspenseful, and mature addition to the young adult horror/fantasy genre.
Zoe is a sixteen year old whose life is turned completely upside-down by the death of her punk-rock loving father. After his death, an insurance fraud claim forces Zoe and her mother to move out of their home in poverty and Zoe to change schools. As Zoe struggles to find an identity within the chaos of her overturned world, she finds a way to reconnect with her father’s lost soul. As her journey to rescue her father’s soul progresses, Zoe gets drawn deeper and deeper into a horrific world of personal sacrifice and supernatural intrigue.
One of the stand out characteristics of the book is Kadrey’s portrayal of teenage angst. Zoe’s adolescent turmoil is both emotional and subtle, which is a breath of fresh air in a genre that leans towards the over-dramatic. There’s no love triangle or romantic angst to be found in the pages of Dead Set. Zoe struggles with a past addiction to cutting and a strong desire to return to the normalcy of a less than perfect life with both her parents. The sacrifices she makes to reconnect with her father through a mystical record shop are both fantastical, horrific, and metaphorical for the everyday struggles many teens feel in this situation.
Zoe escapes reality by connecting with a dream brother named Valentine, who tries to protect her. Valentine represents every adolescent’s desire to have a guiding figure to help him or her through difficult situations. His warnings foreshadow the struggles Zoe faces in her journey to rescue her father’s soul. Zoe may have to rely on a fantasy to get her through her struggles, yet young adults will be able to connect with the escapism the situation represents.
The one downside to the book is the harsh language and raw violence that comes along with a novel in the horror genre. Some of the images and concepts may be too mature for young readers, yet by realizing the deeper themes throughout Zoe’s quest, a young reader may find an outlet for their own personal turmoil. Richard Kadrey does an excellent job of tying each aspect of a harsh adolescent environment into a bizarre and original young adult novel.
After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper Voyager. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.