I am constantly amused by random similarities in books. Got both of these from the public library and read one evening. Both were about 300 pages long, and in both, the really good action didn't start until a good 100 pages in. This is NOT a good plan in middle grade fiction. I'm still thinking about whether I want to purchase these for that reason.
McCarthy, Maureen. When You Wish Upon a Rat.
1 September 2012, Abrams
Ruth's life stinks. Her parents are criminally disorganized, and Ruth bears the brunt of this, since she has to clean and try to keep her younger brothers in line. She had an ally in her aunt Mary Ellen, who gives her a rather creepy stuffed rat, Rodney. After Mary Ellen dies, one of Ruth's brothers throws the rat in the river. Things go from bad to worse, and one day Ruth plays hooky from a family activity and goes with her friend Howard (whose life is even worse-- his father beats him hard enough to leave scars) to find Rodney. When she does, the rat grants her three wishes. (Page 105) She has to choose carefully-- at the end of one day, she can come back to her old life, but if she stays longer than that, that life is hers. She chooses perfect parents, and orderly life, and fame. Will any of these be better than the life she has?
Strengths: Charlotte at Charlotte's Library made this sound appealing enough to read. This would be a good fit for those girls who often like depressing books but enjoy magical realism as well.
Weaknesses: Wanted to slap the parents, and was rather dismayed, like Charlotte, that nothing ever improved. Too depressing for me, and since it is Australian, there was some of that disconnect for me.
Krovatin, Christopher. Gravediggers: Mountain of Bones
11 September 2012, Katherine Tegen Books
A school class travels to a mountain to have a Homeroom Earth experience... a mountain where a troupe of ballet dancers mysteriously disappeared a while ago. Ian (the jock), P.J. (the geeky film nerd), and Kendra (geeky internet nerd) are all a bit dismayed to be there, but things get even worse when they chase a buck into the forest. They get separated from the group, and as night falls, begin to worry. They eventually find a house and take shelter there, but it's creepy and smells weird, so of course they go into the basement where they find bones as well as a journal. They can't contemplate this very long because zombies attack them! (Page 108) They soon find out what happened to the troupe. P.J. is almost killed but saved by a mountain woman and "warden". It turns out that the mountain has weird powers that make people come back to life, but not all the way. O'Dea is trying to keep the zombies contained, but Kendra and Ian manage to set them free when they follow the instructions in the journal. (Good to know-- if people write in mirror handwriting, they are possessed by demons.) The three manage to make it back to their group, but since zombies might now get down from the mountain, O'Dea wants to make them her "gravediggers", or zombie assassins. More books seem to be in the offing.
Strengths: The zombie genre has gotten so popular that I could no doubt move even Zombiekins or Brains for Lunch, a Zombie Novel in Haiku. This certainly had decent zombie lore and gore, once things got started.
Weaknesses: The geeky characters and slow start might be off putting to my hardcore zombie readers. Just not sure about this.