Ok before I begin I feel I should say that I haven’t read any young adult fiction since Harry’s greatest problem was working out who left the graffiti in his school text book. Why this was the plot of a book I can’t remember, maybe he was just annoyed it wasn’t the fun kind that kept you amused in class, you know like genitalia and giant moustaches or the chains that lead you from page to page before typically ending in a generic insult with some the harshest language known to a teenager. Anyway what I am saying is that I don’t know why hunky diamond encrusted vampires are now labelled as different and why that means they have to fight each other in a skeletal city in some kind of hungry game. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I started reading Transfixion by J. Giambrone.
The story starts in the not too distant future (next Sunday A.D there was a girl called Kaylee not too different from you or me…) when a strange signal is broadcast to what we can assume to be at least the greater North Americas. Upon seeing it the viewer is driven into a mindless rage and begin slaughtering everything they come across, so I’m going to go out on a limb and call it out as a copy of Threshold.
When her brother whips out a butchers knife and goes loopy, Kaylee is forced to flee her home and try to find somewhere safe as all her once smiling little neighbours race out to stab, shoot and slash at her. However hunkering down in an abandoned attic doesn’t hold too much weight when the people start receiving orders. Now they’re organised and her found key, copy of a young adult novel concerning ghost hunting and half a cooked chicken isn’t going to cut it. Running into a boy, well he runs in on her would be more accurate, also unaffected by the signal this far and with her smarts and his muscles they soon hot wire a car and set off to the rebel strong hold, the local high school.
However this rebellion would long for a man like Porkins, if only for the food source, and is instead made up of mostly scared teenagers, a janitor and the local bus driver. The bulk of the story concerns Kaylee and Dustin who must gain the trust of their new allies and help them build up to stand a chance of withstanding the hoard outside the gates (well school bus blocking the hole in the walls). This means runs into the city, gathering food and intel, establishing a patrol and wondering if anyone else has survived.
Now the book plays out over a fairly short period of time going into some of the mundane that others might have overlooked, like the looting of the local houses and training with the new weapons thrust upon them. Not only does this help to ground the story but it also gives time for each of the characters to be fleshed out and explored without appearing to grind the story to a halt. Too much is typically going on for the story to ever feel slow or plodding but it almost always manages to give everybody at least one scene or line where we get to feel like they are more than cardboard cut outs circling Kaylee like a McCulkin Christmas party. Such as when Lucas, thrust into command, must deal with a bunch of snarky teenagers asking “what now genius?” and not only look them down but answer them. Or Caroline, the local bus driver who must now watch the children she took to school every morning kill and be killed.
This extends to the main characters Kaylee and Dustin who are given human enough foibles to make us like them and give the story a sense of drama without ever feeling like your bashing your head against the wall in watching them run round like idiots in a scary movie. These are two average teenagers and this drives much of their characterization like Dustin who not only surprisingly doesn’t know how to fire an Olympic class bow and arrow to the point where he misses almost as much as he hits but also has too much pride and too much of a stubborn attitude to listen to the young girl trying to shove a book under his nose in an effort to teach him better. Likewise Kaylee who sees far more than most goes into a kind of PTSD which effectively drives her on autopilot for much of the first act and affects her throughout giving the proceedings a decent sense of weight. Of course anybody who values a pulpy action book as much as she does at the start is going to win me over sooner or later. She has enough drive to keep you on her side and enough smarts to stop you looking down on her or her choices without Kaylee turning into some kind of action hero movie star.
The book keeps up at a good pace and doesn’t out stay its welcome nor does it bog itself down in exposition and padding in an effort to draw out some perceived series, milking its cash cow in sequels repeating things over while they think up something new. The book doesn’t strive to answer too many questions. Perhaps it is saving them for some kind of sequel and perhaps it will annoy someone who needs all the answers and likes everything joined up by the end, however I rather enjoyed reading a book that was content to focus on the characters at hand and not sprawl out into some kind of “epic” mess. At the end of the day you are not following Luke Skywalker or Katniss Everdeen but instead what feels like an average young girl, who pees her pants, runs and hides and mourns her loses deeply while still having a great amount of drive and determination that has you rooting for her all the way not to win the war and save the world, but to survive and get her happy ending.