I'm one of those people who believes that you can stake a lot of a person's character, simply based on the people they ally themselves with. Not like in a political leanings kind of way - though I guess that's pretty reliable, too - but in a "what's your best friend like?" kind of way. Maybe it's the sorority girl in me, just because that's my favorite Recruitment question to ask, but it tells you a lot about what people value most, in human form. For instance, my best friend is super girly, incredibly sarcastic, hilarious, much more socially attuned to what is "cool" than I am, emotionally invested in the same things as me, and enjoys pulling me out of my comfort zone. (And she's getting an obligatory mention today, because it's her 22nd birthday!!!)
So, Susan Dennard, the author of the Something Strange and Deadly series, is best friends with my personal spirit animal S. J. Maas.
How am I just supposed to ignore something like that? As soon as I saw that the novel was stocked on the shelves of my local library, I had to dive right in... and I can definitely tell you that my "friends-as-litmus-tests-of-awesome" theory is as strong as ever.
Something Strange and Deadly follows Eleanor Fitt, a high ranking member of Philadelphia's Old Money, hiding a couple of terrible not-so-secret secrets... her family is actually poor, her mother has never been all that stable since her father's death, and, worst of all, her brother has disappeared! Only Eleanor knows the truth about that last part... after a terrifying encounter with the walking dead, she knows that her brother has been held hostage by the necromancer causing the rising of the Dead in Laurel Hill cemetery. Thankfully, the intrepid Spirit Hunters are holed up at the Centennial Exhibition nearby, and she thinks they can help. If only she could get the smile of that handsome inventor, Daniel, out of her head...
Dude! Zombies. 1874. Centenniel Exhibition. A super-cool, kick-butt-and-take-names heroine. A dreamy-but-stubborn love interest, and a dreamy-but-tortured love interest, and an overall love triangle that doesn't make me want to gouge my eyes out. This book seriously has it all.
I mean, I'm not going to say that some of it wasn't predictable. There were points that, as soon as they were introduced, that I knew where they were going. But I think that was mainly because I was thinking of the most awesome and perfect possible outcomes for each of the plot points that I thought were obvious, and they ended up happening. So, it was predictably awesome, I guess.
I really enjoyed getting to know Eleanor, because she came off as very relatable - incredible accomplishment, being that I don't live in the 19th century or wear a corset, but feel like I "get" Eleanor - and I thought she exhibited a couple of characteristics of heroics that we don't necessarily get to see all that much in YA heroines. She was curious, and maybe got into a few scrapes that way, but was never hopelessly reckless. She was naive to some of the ways of the world, but definitely exhibited common sense, and was never an idiot. She had integrity, but never put off anyone with some kind of misplaced nobility. She was a smart, sensible, but still fun and open-hearted, person, and I wish there were more of her in YA.
And, to be honest, the setting did a lot for me, too. I feel like the whole East Coast Money thing has always had a stake in YA, but antiquated East Coast Money, in a not-so-Anna-Godbersen way? That's unique. And it was never historical in a wardrobe-explicit way - which is how I feel a lot of other wannabe historical fictions operate - but it detailed what was going on in a lot of different ways... technology was touched on, and so was architecture, world cultures, the development of America... it was all-inclusive, and I loved that Dennard tried really hard to form such a specifically historically accurate world, while also letting her imagination run wild in other places... with the Running Hungry Dead, most specifically.
But dude, seriously. Zombies. And that's something I loved, too: anyone who's seen good zombie media, from Zombieland to The Walking Dead, knows there are rules to these kinds of things, and Dennard's got zombies done right. (Go for the knees.)
Overall, Something Strange and Deadly was a great example of how to do YA, historical fiction, world-building, and zombie fiction, right, and it provided both an amazing heroine and a love triangle that didn't suck. Even the fact that it was a little predictable kept it grounded in awesome. Go read it now!