Scream All Night by Derek Milman; Balzar and Bray, 389 pages ($17.99). Ages 14 and up.
17-year-old Dario Heyward reluctantly goes home for the first time in five years, invited by his much older brother, Oren, to participate in an unusual sendoff for their Alzheimer's-stricken father: legendary B horror filmmaker Lucien Heyward wishes to be buried alive at Moldavia, the sprawling walled estate where he has produced dozens of cult-classic creature features.
Lucien's burial goes spectacularly awry, in just the first of many over-the-top moments in this darkly funny, brilliantly written, heart-wrenching debut that sets a new standard for the coming-of-age novel. (The title comes from Lucien Heyward's catchphrase as he would begin a new film: "Scream All Night.")
Dario is haunted by the ghosts of his dysfunctional family and the fear that his DNA will be his undoing, whether he follows in the footsteps of his delusional mother to a psychiatric hospital or his controlling, manipulative father who mercilessly bullied Dario at age 12 into an unforgettable performance in the starring role in "Zombies of the Harvest Sun." (The movie, Dario muses, became a cult favorite even though it got "such a low score on Rotten Tomatoes they had to come up with a new level of bad.")
Dario had made his own plans for the future, but he finds himself getting pulled back into his father's world, trying to salvage the film production business and the jobs of the 100 people who live and work in the weird, self-contained world of Moldavia, including love interest Hayley, his co-star in "Harvest Sun." Dario's obligation to carry on the Heyward film tradition becomes painfully clear when his brother tries to take command, insisting on producing his terrible original script for "The Killer Cauliflowers" (aimed at the "Eastern European horror vegan market" and featuring a character named Justin Bieberman).
Dario's struggle to confront the demons of his past and reconcile who he is against new truths he discovers about his dysfunctional family plays out against the wildly colorful backdrop of the castle at Moldavia, with its horror props, its "Romero wing," its cast of misfit characters like aging actress Mistress Moonshadow ("a sad, middle-aged Goth wearing too much makeup"). This is a spectacular debut from actor, screenwriter and playwright Derek Milman.
Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead; illustrated by Nicholas Gannon; Feiwel and Friends, 201 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12.
Two shining lights of middle-grade fiction combine their talents in this lovely tale, of an unusual friendship, of family, magic and unbreakable bonds, set against a vivid backdrop of the Australian countryside suffering a terrible drought,.
It's been five years since Livy last visited her Gran Nicholas in Australia, and nothing seems familiar. Suddenly she gets the weird feeling she has forgotten something important. When she opens the door to an upstairs closet, she finds "a small zombie wearing a chicken suit." It turns out Bob has been waiting five years for her to return (spending the time reading the dictionary, taking naps "some lasting a few weeks at a time," building a Lego pirate ship "63 times in the dark"). Bob can't remember where he came from but Livy has promised to help him find his way home. The authors have beautifully crafted this story, with plenty of humor and real emotion, the chapters told the alternating perspectives of Bob and Livy. The illustrations by the gifted Nicholas Gannon in delicate shades of brown are just perfect.