The year is 1876, and there’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…
Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper—
The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.
And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor…from her brother.
Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.
Dennard’s debut novel is the first one where I was forced to reevaluate my initial thoughts about the book. The beginning is a bit shaky or, more likely, a bit more melodramatic than what I am used to and it led me to feel that the novel just may be too pathos-filled for me to like. Maybe it is the writing style or the young age of the protagonist, I don’t know. However, as I read further into the novel, it became more compelling and raised some questions that made me think quite a lot – something that is a bit unusual where young adult novels are concerned.
You will know from the synopsis that this novel is set in Philadelphia in the late 19th century. It has zombies, a missing brother and a heroine who has to save the world. Or have hysterics at the very least. What the synopsis doesn’t tell you that the novel raises questions of social status and identity, has themes of human greed as it relates to the acquiring of power and, perhaps most intriguingly and pertinently, the status of women. I found Dennard’s portrayal of the status of women, the limits, boundaries and choices available to women in the time the story is set to have the most authentic feel. Dennard made me think (feel, even) what it is to be a woman shoved into a space, to have no voice or agency to be more than what society deems you acceptable for. It is not like other books have not done the same thing but the difference in this is that women’s status etc is not a wholly explicit dialogue but a gradual realization on the part of the protagonist. Eleanor’s relationship with her mother is also very intriguing and adds to the conflict of being what society expects you to be whether you have the means or not.
I also really liked how the romance in this novel was approached. There was no love at first sight and there was no stupidity once love had set in. In fact, I dare say this novel leaves one of the most intriguing open ended romances I have seen in a YA novel maybe ever. The novel leaves several questions unanswered without leaving a cliffhanger. I quite liked that. I also liked that the romance didn’t consume the main character’s thoughts to the point that she couldn’t think about anything else. Eleanor definitely grows into a heroine I could back and hell, I applaud Dennard for where she took Eleanor in the end. The next book will become a whole lot more fascinating when you think about how Eleanor has evolved by the end of Something Strange and Deadly.
The pace of the novel has the right speed and I found the writing, while at times rather melodramatic, to effectively express what it sought to. The book is somewhat mean girl free which is to say there are mean girls but of a different breed and not nearly as annoying.
This is not to imply the novel is perfect. The beginning is a bit shaky and I would have liked more information about the machines the Spirit Hunters were using but other than that, I think this is quite a strong debut that packs a surprise punch. I didn’t think I would like the novel as much as I do and that is always a plus. Strongly recommended.