Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Every Other Day

By Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Release Date: December 27th, 2011.

Publisher: Egmont USA.

You're a normal teenage girl at a new high school. You spend half your time worrying about boys, friends, and how you are going to pass that history test next period.

You spend the other half battling hellhounds, dragons, zombies, and other entities that can kill, eat, or maim you with the flick of a scaly, rotten, putrefied wrist.

How do you live?

This is the question Jennifer Lynn Barnes poses in her latest novel Every Other Day. Barnes's 2010 novel Raised By Wolves won accolades including the title of "the best YA werewolf novel out there" (Melisa Marr). I don't know enough about YA werewolf books to agree or disagree, but if Raised By Wolves is anywhere near as much fun as Every Other Day, I will be looking for it soon.

Kali, the main character and narrative voice of Every Other Day, is virtually untouchable in battle, but only... well, every other day. When the power takes her over, she roams the streets of her suburban town, taking out evil with as much style and wit as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fans of that franchise will enjoy this book. The story is complex, the characters are compelling, and the action is fast and relentless. The first chapter begins with Kali taking on a pack of bloodthirsty hellhounds. She then goes home to her emotionally distant father. Their strained relationship forms an intriguing, real-life subplot.

One of Barnes's strengths is her willingness to play with fantasy and horror conventions. For example, in Kali's world, a chupacabra is not a toothy rodent that devours livestock. It is a fatal parasite that attaches itself to one's nervous system and drains out the life force. The hellhounds are an endangered species, which makes fighting them an ethical quandary. Dragons exist, some breathe fire, and, like bears, are only a problem when they show up in the wrong place.

Teenage readers will identify with Kali's anxieties and obstacles, both supernatural and ordinary. Boys and girls alike can identify with her voice, which is snarky and mostly confident without ever being cocky. Although Barnes writes on a high school level, the book is appropriate for some middle grades readers. There are a few deaths, but Barnes handles them with taste and uses violence to move the story forward.

I recommend Every Other Day to fans of young adult books, even those unfamiliar with the fantasy or paranormal subgenre, because Barnes's breezy writing style makes the book so accessible to a diverse set of readers.

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