A Good Night for Shooting Zombies, by Jaco Jacobs/Illustrated by Jim Tierney/Translated from Afrikaans by Kobus Geldenhuys, (March 2019, Rock the Boat), $12.95, ISBN: 9781786074508
Martin is a South African teen living with loss. His father was killed in a car crash a few years ago, and his mother hasn’t left the house since. His sister is hardly ever home, usually out with her sketchy boyfriend. All Martin has is his chickens – his nickname is Clucky – and his propensity for numbers. When the neighbor kid’s dog kills his prize chicken, he goes over to say something – and ends up making a friend instead. Vusi, whose dog, Cheetah has a taste for chicken, is a horror movie fan determined to make his own zombie movie. He’s also fighting Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but he has no interest in letting that, or his protective parents and nurse, stop him. He quickly recruits Martin as a zombie extra, and before Martin realizes it, he’s sneaking out with Vusi, shooting Vusi’s movie and even developing a crush on a schoolmate. And, bonus: the cover glows in the dark!
Jaco Jacobs knows how to pack a book. While A Good Night for Shooting Zombies is primarily about Martin’s and Vusi’s friendship, it’s also about coping with loss, as Martin and his family grieve in their own ways; it’s about potential loss, as Vusi and Martin cope with Vusi’s lymphatic cancer, and it’s got a quietly compelling subplot about a group of troublemaking teens and Vusi and Martin bumbling their way into their sights. Martin is comforted by his mathematics equations, which he uses as a coping mechanism, very similar to Willow in Counting by 7s. He and Vusi each have their comforts – Vusi’s is horror movies – and as they share these pieces of themselves, they build a deeper friendship. Jim Tierney’s black and grey illustrations add some visual interest, and Jaco Jacobs’ writing keeps pages turning; the end of the story will stick with you long after you close the book.
I became a Jaco fan after reading last year’s A Good Day for Climbing Trees. A Good Night for Shooting Zombies just sealed it. I can’t wait to read more.
A Good Night for Shooting Zombies has a starred review from Foreword Reviews. There’s a free, downloadable readers’ guide available from publisher OneWorld Publications.
A Good Day for Climbing Trees, by Jaco Jacobs, Translated from Afrikaans by Kobus Geldenhuys/Illustrated by Jim Tierney, (Apr. 2018, One World Publications), $11.99, ISBN: 978-1-78607-317-4
Recommended for readers 9-13
Marnus is a 13-year-old boy who’s tired of falling through the cracks in his family’s life. He’s not an athlete like his brother, and he’s not a financial wizard-slash-loan shark like his little brother, to whom he owes big bucks. A girl named Leila shows up at Marnus’ door, asking for signatures for a petition to save a local tree, and before Marnus realizes what he’s doing, he’s up in the tree next to Leila. Over the next few days, the two manage to gather a viral following, attract sponsors, and build the foundations to a new friendship.
Jaco Jacobs is a prolific South African author, with over 120 books to his credit. This latest novel, released in 2015 in Afrikaans, will resonate with readers here in the U.S., where young people are discovering activism at a younger age. Jacobs hits on the two-edged sword of activism: the empowerment of seeing kids take matters into their own hands when something is important to them, and the trap of viral popularity and its fleeting nature, paired with the frustration of having one’s passion seen as a “novelty” cause. The reason behind Leila’s activism are moving, and Marnus emerges as a sensitive, upbeat EveryKid. The characters have depth and are identifiable, from the two main characters to the parents who mean well but don’t always do well; the Rent-a-Cause college students; the developers who want to tear down the tree, and more. This is a solid addition to bookshelves – it would make a strong summer reading choice for middle schoolers, particularly with the wave of activism firing up this generation. There’s a wealth of book discussion topics to explore with this book, for adults as well as for tweens, from environmentalism to sibling relationships to divorced families.