Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Action Pick: The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch

The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch: At the Edge of Empire (book 1)
by Daniel Kraus
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
656 pages

Available: October 27, 2015


“Fiction, like any art, can be divided between the living and the dead. THE DEATH AND LIFE OF ZEBULON FINCH is unequivocally and furiously among the former. A splendidly rendered, macabre picaresque, muscular and tender, imaginative and grotesque, cynical yet deeply moving. I was appalled one moment and laughing the next. Don't be fooled by the premise. This tale may be told by a dead man, but what's rendered here is life itself in all of life's absurd glory.” (Rick Yancey, The 5th Wave)

"Kraus' careful prose gifts Mr. Finch with a voice that retains a sheen of elegance even as it repulses readers with macabre imagery. And still, when his occasional efforts at reform fail, Mr. Finch becomes an oddly pitiable character." (Kirkus Reviews)

"Morbidly fascinating." (Publishers Weekly)

My review:

Gripping, disturbing, severe, and ever so gruesomely entertaining, The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch will grab readers by the throat, shake them up, and force them to listen to every squalid detail, every juicy tidbit, every strange nuance of  Zebulon's racy story of life and death in Chicago, during the 1890s through the turn of the century, into WWI trench warfare, to the glitter and glam of 1930s Hollywood. Gunned down and dead, Zebulon, rises from the icy waters of Lake Michigan seventeen minutes later to live "life" as a dead man and he's a rip-roaringly fantastic one! What could be better than a dead guy with an attitude? Deadpan humor--what a concept! Zebulon is everything anyone could want a protagonist to be: he is an evil man who can be loving, he is a hero who is tortured by his past,  he is compassionate at times, he is a sinner to be sure, but who is to judge a man who is destined to live for all eternity?

Pull up a chair, settle in and enjoy this epic tale told by a dead man who takes storytelling to great heights with a voice that evokes Dickensian characters of yore. Zebulon's fate--though terrible-- allows him to appreciate the true beauty of the macabre and grotesque. First "taken in" by a traveling snake oil barker, Zebulon spends all his time in a cage. Later, given a chance to discover what is keeping him "alive" and hoping to find a way to die, he makes his way East to find Dr. Leather, a man he met when performing in the traveling show. The doctor promises to help Zebulon. A series of gruesome exams and tactics ensue and if you're squeamish, it may be a bit much. But hold on to your hat, this tale is  just getting started.

Zebulon escapes and runs off to enlist and is shipped off to Europe to fight the enemy. It is in warfare we see Zebulon question life, death, friendship, valor, and war. At first terrified, Zebulon figures this is his chance to finally die and he embraces it. At war's end, our hero returns to America and cavorts his way to Hollywood where he's a pampered lapdog to a glamorous movie star who craves affection. Think film noir and Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard."

This is one whale of a book! Be ready for some late nights with no sleep--it's really that good. Whenever I begin a book this lengthy, I pray, hope, wonder, and the LOVE when it delivers. An engrossing read that just keeps giving. Zebulon Finch a character I will never forget. His name will be right up there with Atticus Finch, Scarlett O'Hara, and Ryan Dean West (Winger, Stand Off). 

This is by far the BEST YA book I've read in 2015. It is in a category all by itself. The writing is so sublime, so perfect that I often had to read a paragraph several times to revel in the sheer joy of the language.

Kudos to author Daniel Kraus! I sense a real winner here! You heard it here first: The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch WILL be on so many BEST lists and look for it soon to be a movie...Hollywood will love to get their hands on this one . Steven Spielberg, you're welcome.

So highly recommended that if you only read one book this year, make it this one!

Suitable grade 9-up. Mature content. Not suitable for middle school.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at


  1. I have to be more than hooked in when I read that you think this "the BEST YA book I've read in 2015!" You need say no more. I would love a copy for my underfunded Alabama public school library--please pick me!
    Neilann Thomas, Librarian
    Northridge High School
    2901 Northridge Road
    Tuscaloosa, AL 35406

  2. This would be a wonderful addition to our library. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to win a copy for our readers.

    Jerrilyn Miller
    San Marcos High School
    San Marcos TX

  3. I am looking forward to reading this. I am always on the lookout for books that will appeal to our boys
    Sandy Krieg
    The Haverford School
    450Lancaster Avenue
    Haverford, Pa 19041

  4. I'd love a copy for my school library. What an exciting review!
    Thank you,
    Claudia Palframan
    Dupont Middle School
    Chicopee, Ma 01013

  5. Sounds great -- if Rick Yancey liked it, my guess is it's action-packed.

    Boston Latin School
    Boston, MA

  6. If the narrator is anything like RyanDean, my students will love him. I would like a copy for my library!
    Cheri Horyna
    Hutchinson High School Library
    Hutchinson, KS

  7. Sounds great!
    Jessie Kirkbride
    Rolla Senior High School
    900 Bulldog Run
    Rolla MO 65401

  8. Caught my interest...
    Joanne Hammond
    Chambersburg Area Sr. High School
    511 S. Sixth St.
    Chambersburg, PA 17201

  9. I've had my eye on this title and now you've convinced me that my high school students must be able to get their hands on a copy! I hope our high school library is chosen to receive one!
    Parsons High School Library
    3030 Morton Ave
    Parsons, KS 67357