Play Dead by Ryan Brown

xterminal's review

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Ryan Brown, Play Dead (Gallery, 2010)

I had gotten it in my head somehow that Ryan Brown's debut novel, Play Dead, was teen lit. Then I got it, and saw the blurbs. Lee Child does not blurb teen lit. And then I read the first couple of chapters, and Brown doesn't write like a YA author. There are a few things about the book that make it look like it was maybe retrofitted for the teen crowd (specifically the main romance), but it reads like an adult novel. So if you're out of college and don't like YA books, don't let that perception stop you. Because it doesn't matter who you are, you want to read Play Dead.

Rural Texas is the kind of place where football is not only a pastime, it's a religion. Nowhere is this more true than in the rival towns of Killington and Elmwood. Thanks to a new coach and a sterling quarterback, Killington, the town on the wrong side of the tracks, is one game away from facing Elmwood in the district championships. Elmwood also seem to have found a new lease on life over the past year, and are coming into the districts undefeated. (They've already locked up the spot and have a bye week, while Killington's got one more game that no one expects them to lose.) In order to prevent Killington from getting there, some of the Elmwood neanderthals decide to play a practical joke on the Killington team to prevent them from getting to the game. It goes disastrously wrong, and suddenly football really does become a religion. Killington's biggest football fan happens to be a witch, you see...

This is a zombie novel (as the cover will most likely inform you). It's a football novel. And it will not matter one whit whether you are a football fan (I'm not) or a zombie fan (I am). Pieces of media come along every once in a while that seem perfectly geared to bring new fans into the fold (think of the effect Final Destination had on a general public that in the main had never seen a serial killer movie before), and this is one of those books. It's disgusting and over-the-top and convulsively funny, along with having what may be the most innocent romance subplot you'll have seen outside a regency romance in a decade or more (it's the book's weak spot in that it's entirely predictable, but it's still fun). But when it comes right down to it, I blew through this book in a couple of sessions simply because I didn't want to put it down. This is a book that will challenge you to stay up all night, skip work, whatever. Trust me on this one; Play Dead is one you want to read. ****

prationality's review

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Zombies + Football =the entire plot of Play Dead. After a rival team's prank goes horribly, horribly wrong the Killington High football team is killed...but conveniently a witch is nearby to bring them all back (except for Cole and the coach, who survived). The rest of the novel is about the romance between Cole and the Coach's daughter, jokes about how you can't tell a teenager from a zombie, the rival team's absurdities and football. There is a lot about football in here, which I wasn't expecting despite the premise and knowledge of what the book is about.

I'm a zombie fangirl, if you say zombie I'm there to read the book or watch the movie pretty quickly, but I can admit nothing like this has been around before. The reasoning is slim at best, and at worst there is none. The book meanders from plot point to plot point, giving only basic facts and cliche'd reactions. Cole is the proverbial bad boy with a heart of gold, Coach Hickham is determined to win at any cost and is hiding a secret, his daughter is a plucky school reporter falling for Cole...there isn't much depth to the characters or their personalities.

And unfortunately football overshadows even the zombie aspect. You would think with a book about zombies playing high school football that may be the focus of the book, but the 'big game' that Elmwood (the rivals) were so worried about (absurdly so) is given maybe three dozen pages total. Most of which is a straight football narrative.

I give the author, a former soap opera star and son to the infamous Sandra Brown, credit for an original idea that at least stands out (on paper) from the tsunami of other zombie-centric media, but I don't believe he had the writing experience to make it more than marginally interesting. He wasn't able to balance the horror with the football antics, nor provide enough depth to have characters stand out or mean something.