Anime Reporter takes a turn with some post-apocalyptic reading to review J. Giambrone’s new young adult novel, Transfixion.
Transfixion is the story of Kaylee Colton, a young American teenager who does her chores, thinks her brother can be a bit of a jerk and really just wants to read her newest supernatural novel in peace. Peace is not forthcoming. A jarring transmission sends a great deal of the population into a murderous rage and suddenly everyone is at war, either to exterminate those who haven’t answered the psychotic siren-call, or just to survive. Kaylee’s first glimpse of this terrifying new world is when she finds her now significantly jerkier brother murdering their mother. Not left with a lot of time to grieve, Kaylee has to escape from her brother’s rage before she’s next. After that, things start to get grim.
The others, the strange, murderous people generally referred to as “dupes” are everywhere. They don’t reason. They don’t even speak, but that’s fine really because Kaylee’s been rendered ever so slightly mute by the sight of her sibling murdering their mom. Naturally, this can make things a little awkward when trying to explain to survivors that she isn’t like those other mute people running around who’d kill you as soon as your back is turned. Then again, Kaylee isn’t that interested in making friends, generally just looking for any way to survive and find her father, maybe reversing whatever’s controlling the dupes and restoring civilisation if there’s time. Mainly though, she wants to keep reading Ghostlier because after a stressful day, who doesn’t want to unwind with a good book?
Kaylee scrambles along for a day or so in the madness before making a fairly apathetic partner out of Dustin. Dustin is looking out for himself and seems to be making good use of his mental Zombie-Survival guide checklist (Don’t pretend you don’t have one), searching for supplies and weapons before heading for secure ground. At the moment, secure ground is a barricaded high school filled with shell-shocked teenagers and a fairly overwhelmed pair of adult employees. Kaylee’s muteness sends her to the bottom of the pecking order and soon she’s not sure whether it’s more of a risk to stay in the quickly militarised high school or venture out again to the dupe-infested wilderness. That said, she’s been getting a lot of helpful advice from hallucinations of her dead mother, so the third option of lapsing into total insanity may end up being preferable.
The premise is great, just barely shying away from blatant zombie-territory. The dupes seem intelligent, using weapons and vehicles and the result is a story shaped somewhere between Mad Max and Highschool of the Dead. This makes the enemy just more than a mass of mindless corpses, and mature readers may find themselves slightly reminded of Garth Ennis’ rather more explicit comic book series, Crossed. The plot is conveyed from Kaylee’s viewpoint and her inability to speak means that other characters are quickly established entirely through their own words and actions. While the majority of characters can feel a little shallow for a great deal of the book (honourable boys are honourable, the girl who blatantly dislikes Kaylee is an asshole just because that’s what she is and the majority of boys are generally just trying to impress each other by shooting well and being manly), they really don’t need much more depth for what amounts to a survival story. It’s just as well that we really don’t need to know about anyone’s ambitions to be a ballet dancer or neuro-scientist before the world collapsed on itself, so these omissions are perfectly fine, though it can mean that many of the supporting cast feel like stock characters rather than the fleshed out entities we’d love them to be. This is largely reinforced by some of the exchanges of dialogue, which can feel just a little stale and awkward.
The prose reads smoothly for the majority of the novel and avoids becoming a heavy-slog despite its hefty word count. There are some very nicely executed moments where Kaylee is immersed in the world of her book as vividly as her own world and the transitions between the two feel smooth and well-placed. Pacing can be a bit of a hiccup from time to time, with brief exchanges sometimes feeling more drawn out than complex actions in a way that can slightly interrupt a reader’s enjoyment. For example:
‘Rory jogged off awkwardly to the parking lot.
Lucas and Dustin tried to force open the padlocked metal
door on the housing of the electrical components.
Suddenly the pickup truck roared, and everyone
perked up with concern.
“The hell’s he doin’?” Dustin ran to see.
Rory jerked the truck toward them, and he crashed
right over the four-foot high chain link fence at the edge of
the parking lot, dragging it forward.
“Rory!” said Lucas. “What are you doing?” He
marched toward the plowing pickup, but he was too late.
Rory bounded the vehicle over the curb and toward the
massive antenna in the middle of the dirt field.
“Oh no.” Lucas stood frozen, watching as Rory
crashed into the steel support cable.’
Nonetheless, these instances aren’t overly common and, by and large, the plot moves itself forwards fairly nicely.
Transfixion is a strong answer to the question “What would you do if-?” which many of us accustomed to zombie movies and post-apocalyptic tales have asked ourselves at one point or another. The premise is simple, but with just enough originality to be gripping and the protagonist is likeable and knowledgeable enough for most readers to sympathise strongly with. Action is consistent and considerable and carried by a sense of urgency about everything from escaping maniacs to good old straightforward starvation. If you’re looking for an easy but engaging read, Transfixion might just be what you want.
Transfixion is available from Tuesday September 9th 2014 and can be found on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. For updates on future works from J. Giambrone, you can find the official J. Giambrone blog here and don’t forget to follow Transfixion on Facebook.
Reading Experience: 8
79% – “Sharp!” – Transfixion is a window into a world gone insane and asks us how long we could fight against insanity before falling prey to it ourselves. It’s The Hunger Games meets The Walking Dead! More than worth a look.