Dead City, by James Ponti (Aladdin, 2012) is by far my favorite middle grade zombie adventure book. The premise--that zombies live deep in the bowls of Manhattan, some still human enough to come up for sun and live relatively normal (un-dead) lives, others depraved killers--is not outstandingly fresh. Nor is the twist--kids trained to be elite zombie trackers, though that is entertaining in its own right. What makes the book so much fun to read is the particular zombie-hunting kids the reader gets to accompany, and the very nice indeed attention to the world-building of the zombie-tracking cabal and those they track.
Molly is not an ordinary junior high school student, in as much as she spends a lot of her free time in the morgue at the medical examiners office (where her mom worked, before she died of cancer). Cadavers have no ick factor for her anymore. Zombies, on the other hand, take a bit of getting used, as Molly discovers when she is invited to join three older kids who are operatives in the secret organization known as Omega. Omega not only keeps ordinary people safe from the depraved killer zombies, but helps out the more human otherly living folk.
Molly's life in Omega, though, turns out not to follow the proscribed routines and procedures. Turns out there's an undead plot to take over the city....and Molly and her friends find the clues that send them on an intercept course with the evil zombie mastermind behind it.
I utterly enjoyed hanging out with Molly and her smart, science-appreciative companions, perhaps in part because I enjoy books in which kids get training in esoteric pursuits (ballet, ice-skating, zombie-hunting, etc.). There's nice nuance here too--it's not a question of zombies being universally bad, or smart kids vs. attractive kids. And any fan of New York city will get huge kick out of the zombiefied version of its geography!
I shall now hunt down the sequel, Blue Moon, because there is a Shocking Twist at the end of this one, and I am very anxious to find out what happens next!
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher