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Readers Advisory: Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens by Julie Mata

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Disney-Hyperion, $16.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 1423194594, May 2014

Night of the Zombie Chickens is supposed to be Kate Walden’s breakout film. But her supporting actresses-her mother’s prize organic hens-are high maintenance, to say the least. Thank goodness Kate’s best friend Alyssa is the star. She’s great at screaming and even better at killing zombies in creative ways. But when Alyssa turns into a real-life soulless zombie and ditches Kate for the most popular girl in seventh grade, Kate suddenly finds herself both friendless and starless. Now, thanks to Alyssa’s new crowd, Kate is the butt of every joke at school and consigned to the loser table at lunch. If movies have taught Kate anything, it’s that the good guy can always win-with the right script. And her fellow social outcasts may be the key to her own happy ending. Kate hatches the perfect revenge plot against her former best friend, but even though her screenplay is foolproof, Kate soon realizes that nothing-in filmmaking or in life-ever goes exactly as planned. Especially when there are diabolical hens out to get you.

If you can read a title like Night of the Zombie Chickens and not love the book attached to it before even cracking the cover, you’re a more disciplined person than I. Luckily, the story inside turns out to be just as unexpected and clever as its title.

This middle-grade story works on several levels: an exploration of amateur filmmaking, a comedy, a realistic treatment of middle school social dynamics, and an examination of whether revenge hurts its target or its perpetrator more.

Kate’s social life has already suffered thanks to her mom’s decision to move the whole family out to the country so she can pursue her dream of raising organic chickens. Her distance from town means Kate is cut off from her social circle; she can’t exactly walk a couple of blocks to the local pool and hang out. Since she’s not within constant easy reach, it’s only natural that her BFF will make new friends who are easier to see regularly, and when Kate isn’t cool enough for the new circle, Alyssa drops her like a bad egg and participates in a verbal bullying that destroys Kate’s remaining social status completely. Coming to school with chicken poop on your shoe? Hard to survive. Getting labeled “Crapkate”? You’re done.

Kate goes on to attempt revenge and learn valuable lessons about getting even and judging people by popular opinion or appearance, which is nothing new. Mata gets extra points for the gutsy move of having her heroine pull off a believable but totally despicable revenge plot, though. The moral loses any preachy qualities easily as the reader gets caught up wondering if Kate will come clean, and if not, how she’ll go through with her plan without getting caught. A few honest family fights up the drama, but true friendship and honesty carry the day and the completion of Kate’s zombie poultry magnum opus. Here’s hoping Mata and Kate both have sequels in the works.

Recommend to: Drama fans–not drama as in The Sorrow and the Pity, drama as in “oh no she di-int!”

To buy or not to buy: Great middle grade offering!

 

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